What Is Networking? How to Grow Your Network

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Networking is developing mutually beneficial relationships with people who work in or around your chosen field.

[Featured image] Two young colleagues meet in a casual environment, one smiling at the other while sitting on a couch next to some plants, to network and talk about industry trends and their career goals.

In career development, networking is the process of building relationships with other people working in and around your field or industry. Unlike mentorship and sponsorship, these connections are typically mutually beneficial, with each person sharing resources, expertise, and information with the other, and tend to be more informal. Your network is essentially your set of professionally aligned friendships.

In this article, we’ll go into more detail about the benefits of networking, share some examples of what networking can look like, and offer tips on building your professional network.

Are you looking for computer networking?

Another common usage of the term “networking” relates to information technology (IT). A computer network is a system that connects computers and other digital devices and enables them to transmit and share data. To learn more about computer networking and IT, check out these articles:

What Is a Network Administrator? A Career Guide

How to Get a Job as a Network Engineer | 6 Tips

6 Network Certifications for Your IT Career in 2022

18 IT and Tech Podcasts for Tech Professionals

7 In-Demand IT Skills to Boost Your Resume in 2022

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Benefits of networking

Some commonly cited benefits of networking include:

  • Explore interests with like-minded individuals

  • Socialize with new people

  • Learn about new job opportunities

  • Receive job referrals

As such, networking has become an essential part of career development. People often rely on their network to exchange news and information about their field and socialize around industry-relevant topics more casually than they might in a standard work meeting.

For job seekers, networking can be a productive source of new opportunities. Some professionals estimate that 70 to 80 percent of job openings are not posted publicly [1]. Combined with the overwhelming number of applicants applying for publicly posted jobs, the traditional search-and-apply method of finding a new job has become increasingly ineffective.

Instead, people are turning to their professional network to tap into the “hidden job market”—the unpublished open roles—and ask for job referrals. One 2016 survey from LinkedIn found that almost 80 percent of people consider networking important to success, while 70 percent of new hires started a job at a company where they had a professional connection [2].

What is a job referral?

Some companies have a job referral program where current employees can formally recommend candidates for open roles. Applicants with a referral may experience some benefit during the application process. For example, perhaps their application will bypass the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) reader, or they’ll automatically receive an invitation to interview. If their contact is hired with the company, the person who initially referred the applicant may receive additional compensation.

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Examples of networking

With the right people, you can turn any social experience into a networking opportunity. There are a range of networking approaches that can suit a variety of preferences and comfort levels. Some forms of networking include:

  • Attending group networking events

  • Attending an industry-related conference

  • Joining an online community

  • Participating in online forums

  • Meeting a new contact for coffee

  • Reaching out to a potential contact via email or on a social networking site

  • Asking a friend to introduce you to their contact

  • Staying in touch with a former coworker

Read more: How to Use LinkedIn: A Guide to Online Networking

Tips for successful networking

Networking is primarily a social experience, and socializing is generally meant to be fun. If you enjoy participating in and learning about your field, you can likely find a networking approach that fits your preferences.

In fact, your most fruitful connections may be those you enjoy engaging with since you’ll be more inclined to participate in those relationships actively. To create the best networking environment for you, start by pursuing the types of social settings where you feel most comfortable.

Here are some more tips as you begin to build your network.

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1. Get clear on your goals.

Before you embark on your networking journey, think about what you’d like to accomplish through networking. From there, determine the types of people who will best align with your goals, and consider what you might be able to offer them in return. With this type of clarity, you can better focus your efforts on building relationships that will more likely yield your desired outcomes.

Remember that, sometimes, your goal can be as simple as showing up. Particularly if you’re new to networking, honing the ability to show up is crucial to success. Some other networking goals may be:

  • Making new friends who work in your field

  • Learning about other people’s preferred processes and tools

  • Exploring a new or adjacent career path

  • Finding a new role

  • Gaining a position at a specific company

  • Advancing your career

Read more: What Are Your Career Goals? Tips for Setting Your Goals

2. Think about who you already know.

Engaging with people you already know can be an easy way to start or expand your networking efforts. You won’t have to worry about initiating the first contact, and you’ll likely already have some common topics ready to discuss.

Some people you already know who you may want to network with include:

  • Friends

  • Former or current classmates

  • Former or current coworkers

  • Past managers

  • Fellow club members

  • Volunteer organization colleagues

From there, you can also build out a list of potential second-degree contacts or people your contacts know who they may be willing to introduce you to.

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3. Consider open networks.

There are several open networks where people with similar interests can congregate to discuss industry-related topics, ask questions, and meet people. As you work toward expanding your network, research the types of open spaces where people in your field tend to come together.

When it comes to open networks, you’ll be able to find broadly defined spaces—such as young professionals networks or websites like LinkedIn—as well as niche groups—such as industry-specific forums, Slack communities, or meet-ups. To find the type of groups that fit your needs, ask your current contacts about networks they’ve joined, reach out to any alumni groups you belong to, do an online search, or follow industry leaders on social media.

4. Actively engage.

Just as crucial as showing up to that first meeting, it’s important to keep showing up. Building mutually beneficial relationships requires time and effort; it may also require persistence and disappointment.

Actively engage with your network and the network you’re building. Practice your interpersonal skills, and learn how to reach out to recruiters on LinkedIn and write a letter of introduction.

You may feel some discomfort as you pursue these new relationships and try new outreach methods. Start by showing up in ways that feel natural to you. Over time, you may feel more prepared to expand your social boundaries and grow toward new types of relationship-building.

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Related articles

Article sources

1. NPR. "A Successful Job Search: It's All About Networking, https://www.npr.org/2011/02/08/133474431/a-successful-job-search-its-all-about-networking." Accessed August 3, 2022.

2. LinkedIn Pressroom. "Eighty-percent of professionals consider networking important to career success, https://news.linkedin.com/2017/6/eighty-percent-of-professionals-consider-networking-important-to-career-success." Accessed August 3, 2022.

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