As a millennial used to interacting through a screen, I barely even answered phone calls at university (why would I actually want to speak to someone when I can type to them instead?). So you can imagine the dread I felt at the idea of professional networking. Attending events where you don’t know anyone and having to talk to strangers? No thanks.
I struggled to understand the benefits of effective professional networking and how it could help my career - until I plucked up the courage to broaden my networking beyond connecting with my high school friends on LinkedIn. Here’s what I’ve learnt from my own experience and talking to others (in real life) about the benefits of professional networking.
Networking events are filled with professionals just like you, which gives you the perfect opportunity to find new clients for the business you work for. This is especially useful for small and medium sized businesses, who may have knowledge gaps. For example, a medium sized business may not have the expertise for social media management, and may be looking to outsource this to an agency.
Business relationships are based on trust and credibility - if you can form trustworthy connections, you’re more likely to deal with them in the future. This is great for your career as it shows your boss that you’re committed to the company and helping it to grow and succeed.
Studies have shown that up to 80% of jobs are never advertised, meaning that they are filled by word-of-mouth through their employees’ connections. Companies take a risk employing someone new and if someone is recommended by an existing trusted employee, you’re much more likely to get the job because you’re less of a risk. If you’re looking to change company or industry, professional networking is a great way of learning about what opportunities are available ahead of the competition.
If you work in recruitment, professional networking is an ideal way to fill job roles for clients and even foster relationships with people who you could potentially find a job for in the future. By talking to people at networking events, you can already tell what sort of person someone is professionally and whether they meet the requirements of your client. This will help you in the long run as you’ll be able to present clients with strong candidates at a quicker rate, increasing your performance at work and opening up more opportunities for yourself.
You can learn a lot at networking events and by staying in contact with your connections afterwards. You’ll meet people at every stage of their career and you’ll be fortunate enough to meet experts in your field or industry. This can be useful to learn about different viewpoints on industry trends and where the industry is expected to develop in the future. Plus, industry experts tend to be well connected themselves. It’s always beneficial to have a strong relationship with someone who knows a lot of people in your industry as this can open up a world of opportunities for you.
You shouldn’t only network for personal gain or if you’re looking for a new job opportunity. The whole point of professional networking is to seek out and build trustworthy, valuable relationships with other people. These can be the perfect soundboard when you’re looking for advice, whether it be about a particular problem at work or your own professional development.
Professional networking is effectively about helping each other out. If you give advice to someone or make a valuable introduction for them, they are much more likely to do the same for you in return. Social psychologists call this behaviour The Law of Reciprocity - if someone helps you, you have a deep-rooted psychological urge to help them in the future.
So, the more you can help your connections achieve their goals, the more they will want to help you achieve yours. Even if they don’t, you’ll feel good knowing you’ve helped them. It’s a win-win situation.
If you want to find networking events near you but don’t know where to start, take a look at websites such as Meetup.com, where you can search for events in your local area.
If you don’t feel confident in your professional networking skills, you could take an online course to learn techniques that will help you effectively network your way to success. Check out this networking course, which will teach you how to enter and exit a group conversation, make others feel at ease, how to maintain valuable connections, and more.