Networking. The word alone strikes fear in the hearts of many. It’s so awkward and uncomfortable! It’s so inauthentic! It’s just so…so…exhausting.
That’s why many professionals put it off. If you’re happily employed and your career is chugging right along, networking often gets put on the backburner. I see a lot of people who only start thinking about networking when they “need” something—like a new job, for example. But in order for someone to help you, they must first know, like and trust you. And that takes time!!
To help inspire you to get started networking NOW, I wanted to highlight just a few of the reasons it’s essential for career success. After all, if you aren’t convinced that it matters, you’ll never do it.
But before I jump into that, let me be clear about one thing: Networking is all about building authentic relationships with real people. It’s not complicated. You’ve done it your whole life. Don’t turn this into something scary or awkward or uncomfortable. Networking can happen anytime, anywhere: In the grocery store, at a nightclub, online, at a volunteer event in your community, or at a local meeting of your professional association. It’s always about making a real human connection before anything else.
Okay…now on to the reasons!
The Hidden (Informal) Job Market
Networking gives you access to the hidden or informal job market, which is a helpful tool even if you aren’t actively job searching.
Allow me to explain this a little more. We’re all familiar with the formal job market: A company has an employment need so it creates a job description, posts an ad on the Internet, and receives a pile of resumes to fill the position.
The informal job market, however, always exists in a much more hidden fashion. Before a job is made public (and sometimes before it even exists) there are informal opportunities. Through networking, you have access to these positions that other people never even know about.
For example, a contact in your network knows a position is soon going to be available at her company because a colleague in her office is retiring. The HR department hasn’t even started recruiting for it, but your contact knows you would be a perfect match for the role. If your contact refers you for the job informally, you could end up at the front of the hiring line before there’s even an official position available.
You might not even been searching for a new gig, but let’s face it: It’s awfully nice when exciting new opportunities just fall in your lap. And if you’re a self-respecting, career-minded professional, you know that when a great career opportunity shows up, it’s worthwhile exploring—no matter how happy you are in your current role.
The 2013 Careerxroads Hiring Sources Survey shows that employee referrals are the number one way to get hired. Sure, it’s no guarantee (that same study shows that only about 1 in 10 people referred for a job were actually hired), but it still gives you a serious leg up on the competition. It’s up to you to close the deal though.
Networking also gives you access to a wealth of knowledge and experience. The people in your network will likely come from a wide variety of backgrounds, meaning they’ll offer a broad range of perspectives and possess a deep well of wisdom from which you can draw.
When you have a strong network, you have a support team—people you can turn to for guidance, advice or assistance. Together you can share best practices. You become as much a resource for them as they are for you.
In short, your network is a valuable professional asset—a resource that makes you smarter, more experienced, and more capable.
Connections = More Connections
Every person you meet has the ability to connect you to (potentially) hundreds more people. That means your professional network grows exponentially with each person you add.
A strong professional network can introduce you to potential future employers, potential clients, trusted service providers and more.
Need a new bookkeeper for your business? Turn to your network! (I just did this recently.)
Want to get a job at Google but don’t know where to start? Turn to your network! Who do you know at Google? Or who knows someone who knows someone at Google? Chances are pretty good that you’re no more than two or three degrees of separation from any company you want to be a part of.
The All-Important “Know, Like and Trust” Factor
Again, I want to stress the critically important role of the “know, like and trust” factor in all of this. The only way you’ll reap the rewards offered by your network is if the people in it truly know, like and trust you. Otherwise, it’s too risky. They won’t recommend you for a job because they don’t want to put their own reputation on the line for someone they aren’t absolutely certain about. They won’t connect you with their network because you could reflect poorly on them. And they won’t be willing to share their knowledge, offer advice or provide assistance if they don’t first like you as a person. We all already have too many demands competing for our attention—if it’s not at least minimally rewarding or enjoyable to help you, there’s no reason to bother.
So start the process of expanding your network NOW, when you don’t immediately “need” something. Deepen those relationships. Be generous and help others first. That way, if and when you need to leverage them, your professional allies will be eager to help.