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The Benefits of Professional Networking

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Even at its most cutthroat, business is a human venture. Shaped by our personalities, vulnerable to our errors, and driven by our efforts, business is more subjective than mission statements and bottom lines suggest. Business is unavoidably personal. Networking simply takes advantage of this fact. Networking has been a ubiquitous maneuver in the workplace for some time now but in recent years technology has given it a whole new dimension. Virtual social networks have made professional networking all the easier but, more crucially, they have made networking, in general, a natural part of our culture. We can reach out to new people without seeming smarmy, intrusive, aggressive, or phony. Connection is celebrated, encouraged, and rewarded.

The Benefits of Networking

  • The Inside Scoop: You may not want to think about the number of resumes that were just submitted for that perfect job posted online just this morning. While it may be easy to send electronic resumes, it's easy for everyone, and, ultimately, sheer volume works against you. Further, the resume process, for both hopeful applicants and hiring managers, becomes rote and impersonal. Networking establishes a personal advantage. In a world of email attachments or online submission forms, don't underestimate the personal touch. Contacts can help:

    1. Tip you off to a job opening that hasn't been publicly advertised.
    2. Shed light on how likely it is the company will hire from within.
    3. Elaborate on the job description and salary requirements.
    4. Put your resume in the right hands.

  • Customers & Clients: If your livelihood depends on a customer or client base, then networking becomes all the more important. Networking can bring you in contact with people who may be otherwise out of reach or out of your considered target range. Don't underestimate the force of word-of-mouth. Recommendations can bring an unexpected amount of business your way. Being proactive can help the process along. Rather than wait for your network to spread the word, solicit your network for help, whether in making another contact happen or providing a written testimonial.
  • Knowledge Is Power: Talking to people in your industry--or in any industry--gives you access to information: news, rumors, anecdotes, trends. Avoid the tunnel vision that comes with doing one job at one company. Expand your viewpoint and take in as many other perspectives as possible. Networking keeps you current and active. If you are in between jobs, remain involved as much as you can without company credentials. Attend industry functions, subscribe to newsletters and email blasts, arrange friendly visits with old colleagues and associates, keep in touch with acquaintances.
  • A Little Help From Your Friends: When the overall economy is down, or your industry suffers from a cultural sea change, or your company loses its toehold, you may find yourself unemployed, a condition that isn't just financially debilitating but also psychologically and emotionally stressful. A network can be a rich source of job leads but it can also serve as a support system. When you're out of a job, keeping in touch with colleagues and contacts can help boost your morale as you look for new opportunities.

Network Now

"It's not what you know, it's who you know" is a truism that may have once suggested the reign of nepotism over meritocracy but in our current landscape "who you know" isn't limited to titans of industry or moneyed families on the social register. Anyone you meet, whether inside or outside the workplace, at a trade show or at a dinner party, can be considered a valuable contact. Network right away, all the time. Have a network in place before you need a job or a recommendation. No matter how social you are as a person, think of networking as a professional duty, a task like any other that needs to be done, if not out of joy or interest then out of pure work ethic. Venture out of your comfort zone. You don't have to become best friends with people you meet or keep in constant touch--you simply need to make a positive connection

  • Network Where It Matters: Networking is natural in professional circles. Seek out conferences, fairs, and events Shop talk should be easy but make natural conversation. Talk to key people about ordinary things. Small talk can go a long way.

  • Networking is a Two-Way Street: You're not the only one who needs to network. You may be a key contact for someone else out there. Think about ways you can help out others--introductions you can make, advice you can give. Approach conversations like collaborations: how can we help each other? how might we work together? where do our professional interests overlap?
  • Network Where It Doesn't Matter: Anomalies make a network. When meeting people outside of the professional realm, find segues. Introductory chitchat almost always includes the question "So, what do you do?" You never know how someone outside your field or industry can lead you to opportunities.
  • Networking is a Process: When you meet a potential contact, gauge what is necessary to maintain that contact. Some people are irritated by irrelevant follow-up calls or emails; others will be amenable to keeping in casual touch or meeting up for lunch. Networking is not one size fits all; use your instincts and determine how best to reestablish contact with people you meet.

Lastly, give it time. If you are just starting a career or are new to a field, dedicated networking might take practice. Forgive yourself initial awkwardness or any gaffes. Networking is in an ongoing process. If you network consistently, it will become second nature. Be open. Be inquisitive. Be friendly. Be yourself.

Sources:
  • Networking & Your Job Search, Riley Guide (http://www.rileyguide.com/network.html)
  • "Networking--It's Important!", MoneyMatters101 (www.moneymatters101.com/networking/networking2.asp)
  • "10 Tips for Successful Business Networking", businessknow-how.com

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