Networking for career development

If you’ve never delved into the world of networking to develop your career it’s well worth considering. Not only is the traditional face-to-face networking approach alive and well, but the internet has also opened up a whole new world of opportunities to build important contacts in your field. Whichever way you choose to network, it offers many benefits:

  • Exposes you to new ideas and ways of thinking
  • Provides a source of advice from experienced colleagues
  • Give you insights into future trends in your industry
  • Keeps you up-to-date with industry news
  • Helps to develop self-confidence both professionally and socially
  • Brings career opportunities to your attention whether you want to develop yourself in your current role or want to move towards the next stage in your career.

Tips to get you started

Networking can be nerve-wracking but once you’ve decided that it is right for you, there are some simple things that you can do to make your networking more productive and enjoyable.

Start off with online networking

If you’ve never networked before and are just starting to build up your professional contacts, try one of the many online networking sites to begin with. Because online networking doesn’t require any face–to-face meetings unless both parties choose to meet at a later date, some people find that it’s not as demanding as attending a face-to-face meeting. There are a number of online networking opportunities including one of the world’s most widely used, LinkedIn which boasts over 610 million members around the world.

LinkedIn is a free service which allows people to share ideas, news, information and career opportunities. You can start off by inviting people you know well to ‘connect’ with you online and once you’re comfortable, you can then invite other people you’ve met in both a social and professional capacity. You can also ask your friends and colleagues for their online networking recommendations, or visit Free Index for opportunities in your area. 

Get to know how people network in your industry

The British Retail Consortium is the go-to resource for professionals working in the industry to expand their networks. They also offer conferences, seminars, networking evenings and business breakfast events

Keep on top of what’s going on in your industry

Trade papers, journals and e-newsletters are a goldmine of information. n addition to keeping you up–to-date with news and developments in your industry, these often also provide details of upcoming networking events. Making an effort to keep up-to-date with your industry also places you into the excellent position of being able to speak knowledgeably when networking.

Ask colleagues and friends for advice

First-hand experience is the only way to really know how valuable a particular networking event will be so if you’re new to this, ask your colleagues and friends where they’ve had their best networking experiences. And if they belong to an institute or trade body ask them if you can attend the next event as their guest. Making an investment in a networking event without knowing much about it can be frustrating and costly.

Keep an open mind

Effective networking is about casting your net as widely as possible so even if you feel that a particular event won’t offer you the kinds of contacts you think will be fruitful, go anyway! You never know who you’ll meet and chances are you’ll have a good time regardless. Go to as many events that time and money allow when first starting off in the world of networking. You might also like to invite a few colleagues or friends to go with you to make it easier if you’re feeling anxious about meeting new people.

Consider social clubs too. It’s a small world out there and many professional relationships have developed out of shared interests. You can find a list of national social and sporting clubs by visiting UK Social Clubs.

Find a networking mentor

We all know someone who seems to know ‘everyone’ and even if they don’t work in your particular industry, a networking mentor can pass on their tips when you’re first starting out. Questions you could ask them include:

  • What types of events do they find the most useful such as seminars, business breakfasts, networking dinners or lunches?
  • How do they choose the events that they attend?
  • Do they have any advice for keeping in touch with contacts they’ve made through networking?

Keep the momentum going

We all have business cards we’ve had filed away for years. Life gets busy but if we haven’t kept up contact with the person, we’ve lost an opportunity. These days, people move around so often that sometimes even fairly recent contact details can quickly become out of date. Stay in contact with people by occasionally sending them links to articles you think might be of interest to them or let them know of any networking events you think they might enjoy. Some people worry that this approach might be seen as ‘pushy’ but it’s an especially useful tool for keeping up contact with people in your network and letting them know that you’re thinking of opportunities for them.

Give as good as you get

It’s important to remember that networking is a matter of give and take. There’s no shame in asking people for advice, but equally, be prepared to do for others as they do for you. Offer to link your contacts up with others in your network, keep your eye out for opportunities your contacts might be interested in, and above all, always ask your contacts how you can help them too.

Networking is a really rewarding way to develop your career, broaden your knowledge, and keep up-to-date with your industry. And although it can take time for you to see the benefits of networking, keep it up and stay positive. Your efforts will pay dividends.