5 steps to networking success

Michael Healy works as an Employability Coordinator at USQ, supporting students to progress their careers. He’s been helping students to develop their resumes, improve their interview skills, and succeed in their job searches for over five years and is also a student himself, completing a PhD on careers and employability. Michael holds professional memberships to the Career Development Association of Australia and the Australian Association of Graduate Employers.

Networking is an invaluable skill that is essential to securing employment and furthering your career. Although the idea can be intimidating, it is just a case of refining and practising your networking skills to open opportunities and expand your network further.

This step-by-step guide will help you build a solid networking foundation.

1. Building a connected identity

When building a network, you first need to know yourself and how you are connected within your professional community. This is through reflecting on your background, motivations and aspirations as a professional. Focus this effort into developing your understanding of:

Your purpose – often what you do is less interesting than why you do it. Understanding the reasons behind why you want to be in the industry, what motivates you, and your plans for the future are all things people will want to know when you first meet them.

Your community – every profession is essentially a community of its own. It is important to find your place in, and your connection to, your professional community.

Your methods and style – even within different professions, there are various kinds of styles and methods that are practiced. Knowing your interests and focusing on the specialties you would like to practise can help build your identity.

Your ‘brand’ – out of your control, your brand is about what other people know and say about you. This stems from your reputation and work ethic, so asking for feedback from others is a great way to start understanding this element of your identity.

Once these aspects are clear to you, practise articulating this information to your potential network and you will begin to find your people.

2. Building network literacy

When you are networking it is really important to deliver a clear, coherent and concise message about who you are, what you can offer, and what you are looking for.

Each professional community will have a unique preference for how they like to connect. This means everything from the events they attend to the language they use. Networking literacy is built around the specific professional community etiquette of your industry and organisations. Take the time to learn, engage and seek out opportunities. Strategise your communication tactics to connect with your professional community.

3. Growing connections

Growing your network is about growing the numbers and becoming consistently more connected as you do so. However, it is important to cultivate your network. Be careful, don’t just add people to your network without a purpose. Seek out your connections intentionally as the quality of your networks is more important than the quantity of connections.

This being said, don’t close yourself off to only your specific profession; explore the boundaries of your professional community and think of the kinds of careers associated with your role and that you will be exposed to in the industry. This also helps to open your mind to different perspectives and new ways to think of your work.

4. Strengthening and maintaining connections

Once you have established some contacts and grown your connections, it is important to give time to strengthen and maintain these connections. This can simply be keeping in touch with people in the same way you would a social or personal contact.

Send updates – if you get a new job or position, update your social media or email your contacts directly to keep them up-to-date with your professional career.

Send congratulations – everyone enjoys being congratulated, so sending congratulations when you see that a contact has an accomplishment is a great way to build rapport.

Ask questions – don’t be shy, use your connections to ask for advice and any questions you think they might be able to answer.

Give something back – asking questions is great, but also give back. This can be through sharing articles or resources you’ve found useful or interesting. It could be targeted through an email specific to the person, or again, you could use social media to share with your community.

Take it offline – there is only so much you can do through online networking. The best way to strengthen and maintain a connection is by taking it offline. Try to organise an in-person coffee date, meet up or even just a phone call.

5. Working with connections

It can take a lot of time to get to this stage, and often requires the right timing – being in the right place at the right time. You can help this happen by joining professional communities of practice where members share problems and work together to create solutions and share industry information.

Another way to fast track this stage is to be or seek a mentor. Working with a mentor can build a solid relationship for networking. Also, reaching out when opportunities arise is a great way too. By seeking advice from people who are connected, you can work together and open opportunities for each other.

Networking can be much less confronting than the idea suggests. By refining this invaluable skill, you can create a strong professional community and open yourself to opportunities for success.

If you’d like to learn more about refining your networking skills, you can find out more here about the world of networking here.


Related:

Top tips to network like a pro

Nick: How to build a network and improve your career prospects

Become more employable