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Networking 101: What Is it and Why Is it Important?

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“It’s all about who you know.” In today’s job market, this adage is as true as ever. With so many job seekers competing for positions, having a solid professional network can be crucial to securing an offer. Networking is an important tool to use throughout your career. Whether beginning from scratch or strengthening your connections, it’s never too late to start. With patience and preparation, you can create a supportive community of like-minded, driven people who play a role in your career development. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of networking — and how you can reap them.

In this guide, we cover:

What Is Networking?

If you’ve successfully joined a club or group, you already know how networking works. Networking involves establishing relationships with people within the same industry or area of interest. Its goal is to create connections based on an exchange of experience and mutual professional growth. Building a strong network can lead to career opportunities you may otherwise miss and make a huge difference when applying for jobs.

Why Is Networking Important?

The more people you know in your field of work, the more opportunities you’ll have to grow and learn in your career. Your professional network can become integral to your search for new jobs, career development, and learning opportunities.

Job Search

Today’s job market is highly competitive, with many people choosing to change jobs or switch careers. A well-written resume and interview preparedness can take you far. But if you have a connection with someone at a company, you already have a foot in the door. You can ask them for advice or about any opportunities that could use your skill set.

“Although you might not see the benefit to networking right away, simply having a connection with someone will help you later on when you are looking for a new career,” says Jim Sullivan, CEO of JCS Recruitment. “You are able to reach out to them to see if there may be opportunities for you in their company, or they might remember you and reach out when something becomes available.”

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Career Development

Networking with people in senior roles becomes increasingly important if you want to pursue a higher position within a company. These connections are a great way to get advice, find development opportunities, or even land a promotion.

“The business world moves like this,” Stefan Smulders, founder and CEO of Expandi, says. “When someone inside an organization mentions your name… you can get a life-changing opportunity just because you had the right contact in the right position.”

Connections with the right people in the right places can impact how far you rise in your company or industry. Diversify your network with individuals from all layers of your chosen career. You never know who might have an opportunity that’s perfect for you.

Learning Opportunities

Exchanging knowledge with other professionals is an integral part of networking. When you connect with people in your industry, you get access to a treasure trove of first-hand experience.

If you’re starting in the workforce, any inside information can give you a leg up over your competition. Your connections have done the hard yards, so use their knowledge and apply it to your career.

If you’re lucky, you can find a mentor. This person will help you navigate your career, set the right goals, and create a strategy to achieve them.

You can also learn from someone who isn’t in the same industry as you. A network of professionals across multiple fields can be invaluable in providing different perspectives on how to approach challenges or problems you face.

How to Start Networking

If you don’t have any experience in networking, you may be wondering how to start. An easy strategy: Begin with people you already know.

“I personally think that the best place to start networking is at college or university,” Smulders says. “The other students won’t only become your friends, they’re your future colleagues, so by helping each other succeed in your pursuits, you’re assuring future contacts in a lot of places.”

Think about your current network. Did you have friends in college with similar career aspirations? Do you have friends or family working in your industry of interest? These personal connections are an excellent professional starting point.

Next, go out and meet new people. You can do this at conventions, trade shows, alumni association events, or online. Professional groups on websites like LinkedIn often have spaces for young professionals or recent graduates. (Forage’s free virtual work experiences help you showcase your skills and get noticed by recruiters at top companies.)

If you already have a job, use your current employer’s opportunities to socialize.

“Even at work, there are plenty of opportunities to network with the right people,” Sullivan says. “Always introduce yourself to those you work with, and also go out of your way to get to know a little bit about those you work with… Also, attending networking events in your area can help to really widen the amount of business professionals you know.”

Maintaining Your Network

Once you’ve found someone valuable to your professional network, the next step is to build and maintain that connection. Networking isn’t a passive activity. Instead, it helps if you are intentional with your communication. For example, organize a time to meet up with your new connections for coffee or chat over Zoom.

>>MORE: What Is Virtual Networking?

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from people in your desired industry. The more you connect with and learn from people, the more successful your networking will be.

And don’t forget: Like any relationship, professional networking is a two-way street. Always think about how you can help your connections. Is there something valuable you can offer? Invest time and effort in your professional relationships before you expect anything in return.

The Bottom Line

Keep working on your networking skills, whether you’re in a job you love or are looking for something new. Connecting with professionals in your industry can give you access to valuable insights or even lead to an exciting new opportunity.

Every conversation can be a chance to network. Speak to people around you, both online and in person. Sometimes, a simple chat can result in powerful introductions or new information to help you get ahead in your career.

Are you looking for ways to accelerate your career? Check out these 14 hiring manager secrets for job seekers.

Image credit: Brooke Cagle 

Ana Staples is a journalist specializing in personal finance and advice for young people. She’s shared her expertise on NextAdvisor, Bankrate and more.