If the idea of entering a room full of strangers and feeling obligated to network with them makes you anxious, you're not alone. It’s estimated that between 7% and 15% of the population experience anxiety around strangers. However, these feelings could be impacting or slowing down your professional success.
Professional networking puts the 'how' behind the saying, "It's who you know, not what you know". It can help build strong connections with your peers and be the key to your future success.
In this article, we discuss the power of networking and why it’s important. We’ll also list ways to get involved and build your professional network, even if you’re shy.
What is professional networking?
If you're unfamiliar with professional networking, in short, it involves engaging with other professionals in your field or related fields, with the outcome of building and maintaining relationships.
There are various ways in which you can network. These include:
- Participating in industry events
- Engaging in online communities
- Joining professional associations
- Seeking out a mentor or coach to guide and support you
- Connecting with professionals via LinkedIn
Why is networking important?
Networking with people in your industry or related fields is essential for establishing and nurturing long-term relationships. It helps to build trust and credibility, which are crucial for success in any field.
Here are five reasons why professional networking is important.
1. Career opportunities
Networking allows you to expand your professional connections, which can lead to new job opportunities. Many job vacancies are filled through referrals and recommendations. Building relationships with professionals in your field increases your chances of being notified about job openings and being referred to potential employers.
2. Knowledge sharing
Professional networking provides a space for exchanging knowledge and expertise with others in your industry. You can gain insights, learn from their experiences, and stay current on the latest trends and developments. This knowledge-sharing can improve your professional growth and help you stay competitive in your field.
3. Support and advice
Networking allows you to build a support system of like-minded professionals who can offer guidance, advice, and mentorship. When facing challenges or seeking career guidance, you can contact your network for support. Access to diverse perspectives and experiences can help you make better decisions and navigate your professional journey more effectively.
4. Collaboration and partnerships
By connecting with professionals who share similar interests or skills, you can explore opportunities to collaborate on projects, share resources, or form partnerships. Collaborations can lead to mutual growth, expanded reach, and the ability to tackle bigger and more impactful initiatives.
5. Personal and professional growth
Professional networking allows you to develop and improve communication, relationship-building, and interpersonal skills. Building relationships with successful professionals can also inspire and motivate you to achieve your goals.
How to build a professional network
Unfortunately, attending one event isn’t enough to grow a strong professional network. Professional networking involves not only meeting new people but also maintaining existing relationships.
Here are some ways to advance your career and expand your professional network:
1. Participating in industry events
Besides meeting other professionals in your industry, attending these events can also mean learning from expert speakers and panellists who share their knowledge and insights. It can also increase your visibility within the industry, establish professional credibility and make it easier for others to connect with you. Some examples of industry events include trade shows, exhibitions, conferences, workshops, seminars, and webinars.
There are several ways to find out about industry events:
- Industry-specific websites and forums: Many industries have dedicated websites or platforms where they list upcoming events. These websites often provide details about conferences, trade shows, workshops, and other industry-related gatherings.
- Social media: Follow relevant industry associations, organisations, and influencers on social media platforms. They often share information about upcoming events and conferences.
- Industry newsletters and magazines: Subscribe to newsletters or magazines specific to your industry. These publications often include event calendars or highlight important industry gatherings.
- Event listing websites: Websites like Eventbrite, Meetup, and Eventful provide event listings across various industries.
- Local business organisations: Check with local business organisations, chambers of commerce, or trade associations in your area. They frequently organise or promote industry events and can provide information about upcoming gatherings.
2. Engaging in online communities
Online communities provide a space for professionals to connect, share information, and get helpful advice. These communities offer many resources to help people stay up-to-date with what's happening in their industries and find new job opportunities.
Some examples of professional networking online communities are:
3. Joining professional associations
Professional associations provide a platform for members to connect with like-minded professionals in their industry, share knowledge and learn from others.
There are several ways to find professional associations in your area, including online searches, LinkedIn, local business directories, connecting with your local Chamber of Commerce, searching online forums and communities, or simply asking colleagues or mentors.
4. Seeking out a mentor or coach to guide and support you
Connecting with individuals with more experience than you can provide valuable industry insights, facilitate networking with their valuable network, and develop new skills.
There are several examples of mentors or coaches that you can seek guidance from. A few common examples include senior colleagues or supervisors, industry experts, entrepreneurship or business coaches, and college or university alums.
5. Connecting with professionals via LinkedIn
LinkedIn offers a broader reach, allowing you to connect with like-minded individuals worldwide rather than just from your city, making it a powerful platform for professional networking. It provides access to industry-specific groups where you can engage in discussions and share knowledge.
How to start networking with people
So, you want to start networking with people? Great! Here are some ways you can prepare yourself for professional networking events.
Before you attend any event, consider doing a bit of self-reflection to evaluate your thoughts, attitudes, motivations, and desires. Self-reflection can help you understand why you’re attending the event, what you want to get out of it, and what you can offer others. Professional networking is about helping each other rather than just being helped.
2. Listen intently
”When you talk, you only repeat what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” - Dalai Lama. When you network, don’t just aim to meet people. Go in with the intention to learn new things. Make sure also to ask a lot of questions. You can build a stronger connection when you get people talking about their passions.
3. Have a plan
Having a plan before you attend an event is especially good for those who are shy. Take note of the questions you want to ask and the type of people you want to connect with. Aim to have deep and engaging conversations with a few people rather than trying to meet as many as possible. Remember that the people you meet at the event could be the connections that can help you two or ten years from now.
4. Don’t be too formal
Remember, we’re all human, so don’t just ask about work. Have general questions prepared about people’s hobbies, etc. You may find you have much more in common than you first thought. Connecting with people with the same interests can leave a lasting impression and create stronger bonds.
5. Don’t be too casual
You want to find a middle ground at these events. You don't want to come across as a workaholic with no outside interests, but you also want to avoid coming across as someone who isn't bothered about their job either. If there’s alcohol at the event, stick to 1 to 2 drinks to settle the nerves. The last thing you want is to get drunk in a room full of your peers.
6. Choose who you want to follow up with
Once you’ve made it through the event, remember the people you want to reconnect with. Add them on social media (if you haven’t already), send them an email, or invite them for a coffee. Remember, to build and maintain a strong professional network, you must make lasting connections.
7. Have fun
Lastly, and most importantly, make sure to have fun. Professional Networking shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should feel empowering, exciting and engaging. The people you meet at these events might become some of your close friends.