Why Networking Is Still Important And How To Use It To Continue Striving In Your Career
For a lot of professionals, it’s alarming to know that 2022 is merely days away. When so much of the past two years was spent trying to stay afloat, many were forced to be realistic about how far they’ve come in pursuing career growth. Amidst countless challenges, one thing that remains uncertain is how to approach making connections with other professionals next year in order to support your own growth.
We already know how to connect virtually; online meetings have become the new norm. But how do we meet new people and foster genuine connections with them in order to create symbiotic professional relationships? If you’re one of thousands of people who are looking for a career change in the face of the pandemic, this can be particularly challenging, especially when having to cope with the natural anxiety that comes with meeting new people in general.
Networking is networking. There’s not much to say when defining the word, and not many brand new and surprising ways to approach it; there are, however, different angles to consider when embarking on building and maintaining relationships after a year or so of complacency. Even the most extroverted of social butterflies can admit that networking isn’t always fun. In fact, most people really don’t enjoy it, and that’s okay. Accept it, and move on—networking, whether you like it or not, is essential. And it’s not about how to have fun networking, but how to do it well.
Whether it’s networking, marketing, or developing business, you should always have a plan. For networking, most people tell themselves they want to meet new people, and treat that as a plan, when in fact, “meet new people” is a goal. So, if expanding your network is the goal, what’s the plan to reach it?
When developing a plan, it’s helpful to start with your expectations. Being specific, ask yourself what you hope to achieve when connecting with other professionals. Approaching the new year is the perfect time to ask yourself this question, too. Are you hoping to land 5 new clients in X amount of time? Are you trying to find new referrals and resources? Do you want to become an industry leader in your field? Is there another area in your field that you’re interested in? In essence: who do you want to connect to, and why?Keep in mind that, no matter how advanced in your industry you might be, there will always be someone who knows more, or at least, someone who has different perspectives that can be of tremendous use to you. Contemplate what it is, exactly, that you want when approaching your career and then hold yourself accountable:
- When attending an event, whether online or in-person, set a goal for yourself. A good example might be “I will talk to at least 5 people I don’t know and get their contact information.” If you are at an online conference, commit to connecting with these people online via LinkedIn and set the same goal of 5 or more people.
- Look at who is attending the event ahead of time. This is very helpful when planning how you might approach people. If you can, research people in advance so you know which topics to discuss.
- When in the act of networking, keep a note about what has been discussed. Networking involves following up, and you’ll be very glad for the written reminders of what you talked about, and which questions to ask.
- Just as you’ve committed to meeting at least 5 new people, commit to the same amount of follow-ups. Set a deadline for yourself so that you don’t forget, or don’t let yourself procrastinate on the tough work of continuing engagement.
Thinking Outside the Box
It’s easy to think of networking as meeting and socializing with brand new people, but actually, making the most of your current network can be considered thinking outside the box. How can you work the contacts you already have?
You might consider the people that your people know and are in regular contact with. It’s entirely appropriate to ask the connections you’ve already made about other people. Expressing interest in someone’s business relationship outside of your own isn’t uncommon. It is incredibly helpful to have professionals who are willing to connect you with others, and put in a good word.
Thinking outside the box also means connecting with old acquaintances. Just because you haven’t been in touch for a while does not mean lost opportunity, it can actually potentially promise a new opportunity for you. Many executives have found excellent business advice from people they already know compared to new acquaintances. On top of that, the pandemic is the perfect time to reconnect. Professionals are finding themselves more isolated than ever, and are more than happy to reconnect to someone with whom they’ve fallen out of touch.
Open Vs. Closed Networking
Few people do themselves the service of thinking about how dynamic and complex networking can be. It’s not just about who you know, or who you plan on knowing, but it’s also about what your engagement looks like with them. Another way to think about this engagement is in terms of open and closed networks. You might want to consider connecting with people who aren’t even in your field. Why not connect with someone who is adjacent in your interests and see how your pursuits might expand in that direction? Even if you don’t necessarily want to do a hard pivot to another field, there’s a lot to be gained from incorporating other industry strategies and goals into your own practice.
When networking is insular, experience and knowledge is so often shared that there are few new lessons to be learned. But, when you endeavor to connect to one or two outside clusters, you transfer knowledge and receive in turn. This is an active, live form of communication and networking rather than a regular business relationship with which you wait around for opportunities to grow.
Additionally, by connecting with outside clusters and transferring knowledge, you set yourself up for being a stronger industry leader within your currently existing network. Being exposed to different ideas and challenges makes you a stronger authority on how to tackle your own. Whether or not you’re currently a manager in your field, being an industry leader is always something to aspire to. The biggest way to make the most of the next year in your career is to see networking not as a social skill but as a research skill. In the end, what you’re doing is learning and improving your assets by way of having experiences with other people and other fields, bringing those lessons back to your industry, and showing that you can impact your field in innovative ways.