Is networking nowadays a key business skill?
Networking is everything, we tend to hear. In the era of social media, the amount of people within your network, either professional or social, defines you and classifies as an individual worth further attention. The importance of who is within your network, how many people observe you, who follows you-this trend is very concerning and makes the idea of networking even more intimidating, instrumental and by many considered purely a self-serving tool.
On the other hand, we all know that building professional connections with the right people is a key towards expanding your career and working on your future professional developments. Is networking nowadays easier than in the past when it involved meeting people strictly face-to-face, attending events or industry associations, getting together on various occasions? Does online networking give less pressure? Is it as valued as traditional f2f connection? Answering these questions is complicated as it depends on many factors one of the most important being is our personality.
To many people networking is not necessarily on the list of top ten of their favorite professional activities. To others it is so intimidating and requiring moving out of their comfort zone, they tend to describe it as draining and exhausting. Yet networking can be vital to your success.
Networking means expanding your contacts with people sharing professional interests, becoming industry experts and involves exchanging ideas and encountering opportunities for cooperation, sharing the intention to support each other on a professional foot.
Is networking important?
Surely, it is. Business wise any activity allowing you to expand your professional contacts is valuable, as you never know where it can lead.
Many of us network purely due to professional reasons. This does not come as a surprise. According to the report prepared by Jobvite, when it comes to the job hunt candidates over age of 40 are more likely to utilize professional connections when searching for job openings. The survey indicates that 45% of respondents is using friends and 31% professional connections while conducting job search (Jobvite, 2020).
The same report shows that even when respondents are not planning to change their current employer, they are still looking for growth opportunities. According to the survey, 63% are satisfied with their jobs, but 48% are open to new roles. Whether you are looking for new opportunities outside or within your current company, a strong professional relationship can inspire someone to actually hand-deliver your resume to the hiring manager’s desk. Such personal recommendation can make you stand out from the crowd of applicants and even help you land your dream job one day.
Not fully realizing the power of networking, many follow a common misconception believing that networking is only useful during a job search. This is also why while having a satisfactory and stable job, people become stagnant network-wise and choose to refrain from making any efforts to expand their own connections. As a matter of fact, the purpose of networking goes far beyond finding next job opportunity.
Erin Eatough (2021) provides 4 reasons why networking is important to you and your career development (this goes beyond job search):
Networking contributes to your social well-being
“Social capital is strongly linked to subjective well-being through many independent channels and in several different forms. Marriage and family, ties to friends and neighbors, workplace ties, civic engagement (both individually and collectively), trustworthiness, and trust all appear independently and robustly related to happiness and life satisfaction, both directly and through their impact on health” (Helliwell and Putnam, 2009).
Studies conducted in the US confirm that vivid networking plays a crucial role not only for individual well-being but the welfare of whole communities. The same studies also accentuated that unfortunately over the last 30 years, a significant decrease of 20-30% is being noticed in participation in public affairs and civic associations (Delagran,2016).
This is not a positive sign, considering that many friendships start in workplaces, being a result of the amount of time we spend daily in our jobs and the common interests we share within and outside our professional life. In other words, with less networking, we miss chances for a connection that starts as professional networking and that can transform into developing lifelong friendships.
Governmental regulations dictating the necessity of working from home did not positively contribute to f2f networking. Unfortunately, these new regulations expanded over the post-pandemic period leading some countries, like the Netherlands, to approve work-from-home as a legal right (Baazil, 2022). How granted by law remote working flexibility is going to influence our professional and social lives, we will be able to assess in the near future.
Networking leads to the exchange of ideas
Let’s brainstorm. Don’t best ideas evolve while being discussed on the open forum? Isn’t it that during conversation with someone, ideas tend to take a whole new shape?
New ideas can keep you growing professionally. Whether you are an entrepreneur or work for a small business or large corporation, presenting your concepts can help you to stand out and be noticed.
Examining new concepts not only offers a unique perspective of meeting new people but also allows gaining more expertise by looking at the concept from multiple angles. Having a holistic view allows avoiding possible obstacles and contributes to the ultimate success.
Networking helps you meet people at various professional levels
Accessing higher-ups can be difficult in some organizations. Some companies have such a flat hierarchy structure that chances for professional growth are very limited, if even possible. However, networking with same-level professionals within the organization is still very valuable as it can provide you with broader insight. Sharing skills and experiences provide the opportunity for mentorship and discovering new areas that can potentially raise your interest and that you were not aware of before. Professional growth can happen on both levels vertical and horizontal.
Let’s be honest the stronger your network is, the better you’re likely to feel about your career prospects. According to the report published by LinkedIn (2020), 76% of respondents believe that knowing the right people is key to getting ahead.
Networking boosts your confidence
To many people networking raises anxiety. Similarly, to public speaking, f2f networking gives them the pressure of being considered smart and eligible enough partner for a discussion.
Especially to people who have been employed in the same place for a couple of years, networking means getting out of their comfort zone. Many ask why would they force themselves to meet new people on a professional level if they are good where they are and they have no intention to change their career. This is not any easier bearing in mind months of enforced work from home. No wonder many of us have gotten used to the new home office reality and refuse to come back to the old state of things.
The good news is that there is a key to successful and stress-free network building. And the key is to approach the situation from a different angle. To optimize the experience, we should be looking for collaborators with whom we can work in an enjoyable and mutually enriching way, rather than individuals whom we consider professionally useful. Thus, the secret is to network with people who for one or the other reason interest you and look at what can emerge from such conversations.
Can approaching people with the main thought of how they can help us further, ultimately lead to something new and exciting? Sure, it can. However, it may not necessarily be the best way to practice your networking skills. Once you gain confidence (and you will as it is just a matter of practice) you can further explore your networking environment and master the skill of networking. There is nothing better to train your assertiveness than pushing yourself out of your comfort zone (Carrigan, 2022).
Networking is a crucial skill in business. Whether you look at it as a necessity something intimidating, instrumental or a symbol of one’s recognition it is something inevitable and unavoidable for your professional and personal growth. Networking can be taught or rather self-trained. Once you gain enough confidence through practice, it will turn into something natural and a part of your professional life.
Baazil, D., Cras, P. (2022) Dutch House Approves to Make Work From Home a Legal Right https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-07-05/dutch-parliament-approves-to-make-work-from-home-a-legal-right?leadSource=uverify%20wall (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
Carrigan, M. (2022) An introvert’s guide to post-pandemic networking, https://soundcloud.com/mark-carrigan/an-introverts-guide-to-post-pandemic-networking (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
Delagran, L., (2016) “How Do Our Social Networks Affect Wellbeing?” https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-do-our-social-networks-affect-wellbeing (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
Eatough, E. (2021) “What is networking and why is it so important?” https://www.betterup.com/blog/networking#:~:text=Networking%20contributes%20to%20your%20social,Networking%20boosts%20your%20professional%20confidence (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
Helliwell, J., Putnam, R. (2005) “The social context of well-being. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London” https://www.socialcapitalgateway.org/content/paper/helliwell-j-f-putnam-r-d-2005-social-context-well-being-philosophical-transactions-roy (Accessed: 8 September 2022)
Jobvite (2020) “Job Seeker Nation Survey 2020 When Change is the Only Constant” FINAL-Jobvite-JobSeekerNation-Report1_5-11.pdf (Accessed: 7 September 2022)
LinkedIn (2020) “LinkedIn Opportunity Index 2020: How people around the world feel about opportunity”, https://economicgraph.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/business/en-us/talent-solutions/emerging-jobs-report/pdf/LinkedIn-Opportunity-Index-2020-Global-White-paper.pdf (Accessed: 7 September 2022)