What is networking?

Networking is about getting to know people, and you already do this every day! A common misunderstanding of networking is that it’s all about what you get - and this view on networking will not get you far. A general rule of thumb when making contacts should be to give more than you get, this can be done by always being open to helping your network and making them aware of opportunities and connections they would benefit from. Afterall networking is a two-way street. A skilled networker not only maintains a great professional and personal network but is also able to share information and introduce people to each other across networks.

How to build your network?

From the beginning, you already have a network base that consists of your friends, family, and colleagues - and you should not underestimate how much they can help you. The 4 most important steps to successful networking are:

1. Attend stuff

You should always be open to meeting new people and the opportunities this could bring to you. To extend your network it is a good idea to participate in social gatherings such as trade fairs, conventions, events, business meetings, or clubs with a similar interest as you i.e. Finance clubs, book clubs, etc.
But networking does not always require that you are face-to-face. Professional network platforms online are a great way of listing your acquaintances, joining groups and following companies/industries that are of interest to your career.

2. Be Prepared

Before attending an event do your research: Who will be there? What companies? What have they done previously? This way you are prepared and you know where to place your attention.

3. Be Comfortable

Being prepared will help you relax at the social gatherings, and it will make your questions more relevant and thoughtful. When attending networking events it is all about being as comfortable as possible, and an idea could be to ask around if one of your friends or colleagues will attend the event with you as your buddy.

4. Pitch Yourself

Clearly, there is quite a lot of preparation you have to do before going to a networking event, but the most important is your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is very concise (about 30-45 seconds) where you quickly explain who you are, what you do (what you would like to do), and why you love it.

One-on-one talks are sometimes better than e-mail

Good networking questions?

Firstly you must determine if the person is interested in talking to you, but the most important thing is that you have to listen and take a sincere interest in the conversation. In networking, it is important to remember that it is not the quantity that matters - but the quality.

At these sessions, it is recommended to ask open-ended questions that you want to know the answer to, so do not just ask questions that you think the other person will like. This also makes it easier to sincerely have an interest in the conversation. Examples of such questions could be:  

  • How did you get involved in…[education, major, industry, start at this company]?
  • What advice would you give someone who is just starting in this business?
  • What do you enjoy most about what you do?
  • What do you see as coming trends within your line of work/industry?
  • What would make someone the ideal employee for your company or organisation?
  • What experience did you have to get this job?
  • What is the toughest part about your job?
  • What other people do you recommend that I talk with? May I tell them that you referred me to them?

The most important thing is to stay true to your interests and have a good time, but it is always a good idea to have some questions memorised and ready to go!

Using your network

To actually use your network one of the most important things is to keep your contacts updated and follow up with new and old connections. There are many ways to follow up with your network, the best idea would be to meet up and further develop the relationship over coffee or dinner, but this is very time-consuming and is not always a possibility. You might consider keeping all your social media profiles updated, sending emails or chatting with important contacts from time to time. If you do not follow up with your networks, the quality will start to dwindle. It is also of great importance for you to figure out what you want before you contact your network.

If you want to use your network for landing a job, it is important to ask for advice, not for a job. Asking for advice is a great way to get information, without placing unwanted pressure on your connection. It encourages them to spread the word about your job search - or keep their ears close to the ground. When you do use your network remember to always be considerate, sincere, a team player and thankful - remember to give more than you get.

Maintaining your network

Smartphones enable you to carry your network in your pocket

It can be hard to maintain a network, and it does change over time as your aspirations and your personality changes. It is important to stay in touch and ask your network how you can help. One of the great ways to help your network is by connecting your contacts and sharing resources and helping each other expand the community. Thankfully, social media has helped us out in regards to keeping each other updated, so remember to update your profiles and keep yourself informed about what your network is doing.

Networking across cultures

Include others into your network

A huge challenge for professionals in this age is how to network across cultures. There are huge differences within countries regarding norms and gender roles, so no matter what, it is a good idea to do some in-depth research about the networking culture of your future destination, as there is no excuse if you get it wrong. For example in the USA people are very open to networks, and the relationship is more shallow as it is directly linked to a specific purpose. In China people instead have closed networks called “guanxi”, which are special relationships between two or more professionals. You may have a specific objective in mind when entering such a network, but you never know the result and it requires a lot of time investment.

A great tip when networking across borders is to learn from those around you and dive into your existing network to see if you have a local business contact or someone who has tried it before, where you can learn from their experience.

Networking Tips from Kathryn Minshew