What Is Networking? How to Grow Your Network

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about networking and 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 building relationships with others 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 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 2024

7 In-Demand IT Skills to Boost Your Resume in 2024


Benefits of networking

Some commonly cited benefits of networking include:

  • Explore interests with like-minded individuals

  • Socialise 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 socialise around industry-relevant topics more casually than in a standard work meeting.

For job seekers, networking can be a productive source of new opportunities. 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Instead, people are turning to their professional network to tap into the “hidden job market”—the unpublished open roles—and ask for job referrals.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].

Examples of networking

You can turn any social experience into a networking opportunity with the right people. 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 co-worker

Tips for successful networking

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

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, start by pursuing the types of social settings you feel most comfortable in.

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

1. Be 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 clarity, you can better focus 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, improving 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

2. Think about who you already know.

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

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

  • Friends

  • Former or current classmates

  • Former or current co-workers

  • Past managers

  • Fellow club members

  • Volunteer organisation colleagues

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

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 towards 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 need persistence and disappointment.

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

You may feel discomfort as you pursue these new relationships and try new outreach methods. You can 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 towards new types of relationship-building.

Getting started

Explore personal and professional development courses from leading universities and institutions on Coursera. Learn People and Soft Skills for Professional and Personal Success from IBM, Achieving Personal and Professional Success from Wharton, or expand your industry knowledge with a Professional Certificate in data analytics, social media marketing, or sales from Google, Meta, or HubSpot. Sign up for a free 7-day trial and start learning today.

Article sources


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 March 25, 2024.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.