Many people have preconceived notions about networking. It might make you uncomfortable or you might view it as being pushy. In reality, networking is none of these things - it's about being a well-connected professional. And in a world where the majority of jobs are never advertised, networking will be a vital skill for your future career.
Networking guru Robyn Henderson defines networking as "earning the right to ask a favour". In other words, it's not all about you. Good networkers know that networking relies on reciprocity: it's about staying in touch with others in your profession and those with common interests.
Tips from networking experts
Networking is about leaving a good impression and coming from a gracious space, which means that there are essential points of etiquette to be aware of:
- If you are going to use someone's name (a contact) to introduce yourself to another person, always be sure that you have his or her permission to do so.
- If you want to set up a contact, never demand your own terms and never 'cold call' - this assumes that you think that your time is more valuable than the other person's.
- Don't turn up unannounced, it's not advisable to make contact with people without a referral. Consider networking with employer events and seminars to make contacts.
- If you do secure a meeting, prepare some intelligent questions. Are you there for occupational information, help or future contacts? Ask questions that will make a good impression - don't make the other party do all the work.
- Keep in touch with your contacts, but don't harass! Again, this really boils down to being polite and friendly at all times. For example, you might send a brief email to let them know about a public lecture or seminar they might be interested in - and make it clear that no reply is required so you do not put demands on their time. Be highly selective about when and why you contact them: spamming a contact via your personal email lists is the quickest way to sever the connection.
- Returning favours and being open to help others will expand your network immeasurably. When assistance comes, it may not be from an expected source, so you need to be mindful of this as you deal with people in a whole range of life contacts.
- Always send a thank you email or personalised LinkedIn request to anyone who takes the time to spend time with you. Keep the tone pleasant and businesslike - but don't grovel. This is about being genuine and authentic. The message could include updates on progress you've made as a result of your meeting.