Whether you are changing careers, going after that dream job, or you feel like it is just time for a change, networking paves a clear way into your next profession. It’s not just about meeting new people and growing your numbers on ‘social media’. And it is not just about trading information, business cards, or making small talk. Networking serves as a tool to branch out and create meaningful connections with people that you can mutually benefit from. 

The Power of Networking

In today’s job market and fast-paced social settings, it is easy to keep your head down and get your job done, but networking can ensure long-term success in your present and future jobs. So, what are the benefits of networking?

1. Access to new opportunities

Networking has the potential to open up doors that you didn’t know were closed. Connections lead to opportunities and having a strong network can open up many more of those doors. 

These connections can be made at work events, hiring events, and even during virtual sessions. 

2. Professional Learning and Growth

Networking is also a great way to learn from others in your field. You can find a mentor to help you on your journey, and many more people that have skills and talents that you didn’t think of or even to consider how it can help you in your industry.

Younger generations coming into the job market have very different knowledge and skill sets than previous generations and that will continue to grow and be of value to the industry, especially with the current progression of new technologies.

Thinking of these new additions to the industry as a burden will hold you back more than it will help you. As the old saying goes; if you can’t beat’em, join’em.

3. Support and Encouragement

Another priceless benefit of networking is having a group of encouraging peers. It will mean the world to have those people around when times get rough.

However, before things get rough or stressful, you can use your network to ask for advice, feedback, or even to help you prepare you for the hiring process. Having a peer group, especially within your industry, can help you think outside the box when it comes to the application process for that next job. 

And as earlier stated, support and encouragement, can potentially lead to that next job interview with references, door openings, and collaborations.

4. Increased Exposure

As you grow your network as a candidate, you are able to gain exposure for the next big career. Friends can share your resume, tag you in job postings that are right for you, and inform you of openings that might be a good fit for you. 

You can also look at the profiles of your connections on job market websites and ensure that you have the best written profile, resume, and cover sheet. As you grow your network more, you will have plenty of examples on the do’s and don’ts of hiring websites profiles and since you are networking, you can even ask your peers to review your profiles, or anything externally facing to ensure that you look as good to the hiring personnel as you feel.

How to build a network

There are no secret handshakes, no secret initiations, and no club dues. Networking is as easy as starting up a conversation with someone and seeing what their professional goals are. It can be as simple as small talk, or as deep as your next big idea for the industry. You never know what can come out of a simple conversation.

But where do you have these conversations? In what setting would you be able to discuss professional growth and opportunities? Here are a few ideas.

1. Attend industry events

Job fairs, professional meet and greets, and even coffee connection events are great for meeting like-minded people in your area, in your career field, or even in a field you hadn’t considered being a good fit for your skills.

A lot of industries have ‘industry nights’ in areas dense with those careers. Or you can even look for networking events on social media or job seeking sites. These events are great for starting casual conversations with people and seeing if they are a positive addition to your professional network, and possibly even personal network.

But before you go, remember this is not a casual event. You are going to make a lasting impression. Make sure you dress professionally, bring business cards, and ensure that you follow up with any contacts made in a timely manner.

2. Reach out via Professional Websites

A great way to expand your network is by using professional websites. Find ways to reach out to industry mutuals that you may have, supervisors and subordinates that you have worked with in the past.

You can also share your recent work – as long as it’s not classified. This will allow you to create a professional portfolio, so you can share that with hiring experts.

3. Listen to Others and Hear Their Value

Networking has many benefits, both personally and professionally. Another great value is the ability to listen to others in the same situation as you, and offer help, advice, or even the power of networking to aid in their job search.

You never know if or when you will be the person with more experience, career lessons, etc., and if you step up and show that you have not only leadership skills, but the ability to lead and assist others, you are validating your own skills and your network will see what you can bring to a team, even in a high-stress situation.

Networking is your key to those doors that you cannot open alone. Our professional circles are much smaller than we are used to, and with the growing use of digital spaces and social media, they will continue to get smaller.

Do not be afraid to reach out to those old supervisors, and don’t think it is unprofessional to reach out to old subordinates. You never know what advice, or insight they can offer you as you continue to grow in the industry. Plus, you never know what they have been up to, who they have connected with and what doors they can help you open in the future.

4. Follow-up

Last, but not least, ensure that you follow up with any connections that you make at any event that you participate in. Do not wait a day or two to follow up. This is not speed-dating. Professionally, we all have a lot going on and if you don’t follow up quickly, you could end up as a business card at the bottom of a drawer. 

Following up quickly with a potential employer, or network connection, can keep you fresh in their mind and show them that you take initiative and that you found the time connecting with them impactful and important.

Time is money. And wasting time is going to cost you.

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Aaron Knowles has been writing news for more than 10 years, mostly working for the U.S. Military. He has traveled the world writing sports, gaming, technology and politics. Now a retired U.S. Service Member, he continues to serve the Military Community through his non-profit work.