UPDATED BY
Jessica Powers | Dec 19, 2022

Have you ever contacted a former coworker for help finding a new job? Attended a mixer at an industry conference? Posted a thorny work question on social media? If so, you’ve engaged in professional networking, which can play a critical role in helping you carve out a fulfilling career. 

 

What Is Professional Networking?

Professional networking is the ongoing practice of building and maintaining relationships with professionals in your specific industry and other related fields. 

What Is Professional Networking?

Professional networking is the practice of seeking out and connecting with professionals in your industry or related fields, with the goal of building and maintaining relationships for support, sharing job opportunities and providing career updates.

Effective networks are relevant to your career and populated with people you trust. Your network should have some relevance to your career and be filled with those you trust: The key is quality, not quantity. Approach networking prepared to offer help as promptly as you receive it; members of healthy and effective networks depend on each other for honest feedback. 

Networks aren’t built overnight. Still, the time investment is worth it, as you’re building sources who will help you throughout your career.

 

Benefits of Professional Networking

If you’ve ever received an exciting job lead or reached out to a previous colleague for a reference that helped you land the job, you’ve felt the benefits of professional networking. Building a professional network is also a great way to get exposed to new ideas from peers working in your field. 

Why Is Professional Networking Important?

Professional networking helps professionals share job opportunities, knowledge and support with one another. Professionals can lean on their networks for references, industry insights and helpful advice.

 

1. Knowledge and Ideas 

 Professional networking is a key part of sharing knowledge within (and across) industries and getting exposure to new ideas. The simple act of sharing what you’ve learned in your job — or asking questions about the day-to-day of a friend’s job — can lead to meaningful conversations about how work can be done better and more efficiently. Even if it doesn’t lead to a new job right away, networking at least serves to make you a sharper professional within your current one.

 

2. Job Opportunities

Possibly the most important benefit of professional networking is job opportunities. When professionals share job postings from their company, tell a friend about a position that might interest them or ask for leads on their next role, there is the potential for referrals and introductions to hiring managers or recruiters. 

 

3. Advice and Support 

It may seem obvious, but professional networking can help you build a foundation of support to lean on throughout your career. The opportunity to discuss work challenges and ask for advice from your peers is a valuable part of networking — and helping someone with their work troubles may teach you something in the process too. 

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7 Professional Networking Tips

Building your network can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as connecting with a coworker on LinkedIn or reaching out to an old colleague for coffee. If you’re new to the professional world or just looking for ways to expand your network, here are some tips to help you get started. 

How to Build a Professional Network

  1. Dedicate time to networking. 
  2. Help your peers advance their careers.
  3. Focus on quality connections. 
  4. Use social media to expand your network. 
  5. Join college alumni groups.  
  6. Maintain one-on-one relationships.
  7. Stay patient.

 

1. Dedicate Time to Professional Networking

“Most of us see the value in networking, along with all of the opportunities that come along with it,” Devin Schumacher, founder of digital marketing agency Serp, said.  To make networking part of your routine, Schumacher suggests setting aside a specific time to expand your professional circle. Having an exact time, say noon to 1 p.m. each Wednesday, keeps you accountable and ensures consistency in your networking approach. “If you set time aside to network every day, you’ll create new and exciting opportunities for your career to take shape,” he said. 

 

2. Help Your Peers 

Networking isn’t just about how people can help you; it’s about how you can help people. Wanting to provide value in her network in order to grow relationships is how Kristen Bolig, founder of SecurityNerd, started her business.

“I wanted to be of service to others,” Bolig said. “It makes a huge difference and networking becomes simpler when you’re thinking of the other person before yourself.” Putting other people first “comes back, often when you least expect it.”

When it comes to helping your peers, it’s best to start close to home. Resist the urge to reach out to top people in your field, instead focus on those in your immediate circle. This is what Nick Drewe, founder of Wethrift, an e-commerce platform, suggests. 

“They’re the ones who are going to grow with you in the industry and provide opportunities as you go along, the ones who will hire you or you may want to hire them, and the ones you can swap ideas with about all things tech,” Drew said. He also advises networking with people you like and with whom you have a natural rapport.

“They’re the ones who are going to grow with you in the industry and provide opportunities as you go along.”

Another big part of being successful in helping others with their career is genuinely being interested in those around you.

“Be authentic, care personally, and ask deep questions to understand each other’s strengths, weaknesses, professional and personal goals, and ways we can help each other,” Chris Ingate, enterprise account executive at logistics tech company Overhaul, said. 

“Showing vulnerability is a great strength,” he added. “Share personal details on your values, experience, current challenges and motivations.”

Further ReadingHow to Network More Effectively — and Authentically

 

3. Choose Quality Connections Over Quantity

It can be tempting to have as many professional connections as possible, but this isn’t always the way to build a meaningful network. 

“People ask for a connection on LinkedIn well in advance of a strong relationship connection, and as a result your LinkedIn network is typically filled with people you don’t know that well,” Ryan Pitylak, CMO at ZenBusiness, said. 

If a colleague offers to introduce you to someone, accept the invitation, Pitylak added. That new contact might very well help you gain perspective on a situation or your career overall. These people, who are natural networkers, get satisfaction from making introductions that end up being mutually beneficial.

Pitylak also suggests keeping in contact with people who are in similar roles, even a rung or two up the ladder. “These people tend to have actionable knowledge about how to manage through your current problems and opportunities,” he said. 

Finally, keep in touch with people from your past, including former colleagues, clients and partners. “If you worked closely with them, they know you well and you’ve built up enough of a relationship that will justify a future call when you need some help.” 

 

4. Expand Your Network on Social Media

“Make yourself visible or people won’t know that you and your business exist,” Fred McGill Jr., CEO and founder of real-estate startup SimpleShowing, said. 

McGill seconds Bolig’s advice to share ideas, knowledge and expertise with those who need help. “You may not realize it quickly, but you’ll see that people will remember you later,” he said.

Producing thoughtful social media content is an important part of professional networking. It may take time for your content to gain traction, but consistency will eventually put your content in front of the right people.

“Cultivate opportunities for important discussions to take place between insightful individuals to build your professional network effectively,” Mark Hayes, head of marketing at Kintell, said. “You’ll be surprised at how many amazing people in your niche and industry that you’ll meet online.

 

5. Join a College Alumni Group

Don’t forget about the assets you may have from your education. A college alumni group can be an easy way to connect with professionals in your field or related jobs. 

“Starting conversations within the group is fairly easy because you share the same school,” Max Harland, CEO of Dentaly, said. “It offers ease of communication and an excellent way to build your professional network.” 

Harland recommends organizing regular events and meetings to keep the group close.

 

6. Focus on One-to-One Relationships

Although mixers and events are valuable to professional networking, don’t underestimate building one-to-one relationships. There are a couple of ways to do it.

“Research who’s active in your industry, what their approach to networking is and how you can best reach out,” Nate Tsang, founder and CEO of stock research platform Wall Street Zen, said. Research firms ahead of time, and if the person is a major influencer, buy and try their product or service to fuel a better conversation. 

You can also find out what other professionals in your field are reading and what groups they belong to, then join and participate in those discussions. “Build connections and keep lines of communication open by messaging them once a quarter,” Arthur Iinuma, co-founder and president of software development firm ISBX, said. 

Read NextYou’ve Heard of Remote Working, But What About Remote Networking?

 

7. Remember That Professional Networking Is a Journey

“Growing your professional network does not come at once, and it certainly does not come easy,” Kristaps Brencans, CMO at marketing firm On The Map, said. Connecting with too many people too quickly comes off as “desperate, annoying and unprofessional, all of which will keep you from building strong business partners,” he added. The patient approach helps you find your niche, identify the exact people you want to connect with, and thus build an effective and long-lasting network. 

Once your network is built, “the rest is a natural progression,” Casey Renner, a partner at OpenView, said. Renner suggests going to your network for unbiased advice and an outside perspective on facing career challenges. A genuine network will let you know when they see a job that’s right for you. 

Finally, your network can help with career temperature checks. “This group of people are most likely not part of your company, so they can offer you an unbiased perspective,” Renner said. “It might not be what you want to hear, but isn’t that why you’ve built this group to begin with?”

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