“It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Sounds like a LinkedIn cliche, but it’s one that’s been proven true over and over again. Education and experience are both important, but networking is equally so and often overlooked. Whether you’re looking for your first job, returning to the workforce, seeking a change, or are a business owner looking for funding, networking is a key element of the success toolkit. Start building your network now.
WHY SHOULD I NETWORK?
The benefits of networking are most evident in job hunting. A LinkedIn study in 2020 found that 82% of US adults said networking is vitally important for finding a new job. A 2021 Forbes study confirmed this: 85% of job vacancies are filled via networking.
Building a network isn’t just important for individuals, it’s just as important for businesses – particularly startups and small businesses. In fact, most small businesses rely on word of mouth marketing to start and grow. 20% to 50% of all purchasing decisions are made primarily due to word of mouth according to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company in 2010. Referrals lead to new business, and networking is one way to build a pipeline of new business opportunities.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
As Hermina Ibarra, an organizational behavior professor at London Business School, pointed out, “Networking is a lot like nutrition and fitness: we know what to do, the hard part is making it a top priority.” So while the concept is clearly awesome, most people struggle to find a starting point. Here are a few simple, intuitive steps to start building your network:
Meeting new people is the foundation for building your network.
The first thing to do before anything else? Set your goals. Clarifying your purpose in networking for yourself will allow you to prepare and be deliberate in your actions.
Choose networking organizations to join and events to attend that align with your goals. This is a great place to start since you know that everyone else attending also wants to connect with others and build their own network. For college students, career fairs are a great first place to try making connections in a low stake environment. For professionals and business owners, joining professional associations or societies relevant to your field is a simple way to build connections.
Second, let’s clarify what networking is and is not. Connecting with new people is simply a beginning. Building and maintaining relationships requires time, investment, and nurturing. These relationships actually comprise most of networking, not connections alone. Start and maintain a dialogue with the new connections you make on topics you relate to each other on, whether those topics are personal or professional.
While events are great, they’re not enough. Socializing in a less formal setting allows you to develop relationships organically. Social settings allow for more relaxed and open conversations in which people can be themselves.
NETWORKING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Social media is another useful tool that connects people based on shared passions and interests. LinkedIn is the number one business network, but don’t disregard social media such as Instagram and Facebook. They can be just as important given the sheer number of users on these platforms. Regardless of the social network, profiles reflect their creator. Keep your profiles professional.
Do not make the mistake of interpreting online interactions for networking and relationship building though. As Silicon Valley executive and venture capitalist Heidi Roizen said in an article within Insights by Stanford Business, “Just because someone connects with you on LinkedIn doesn’t mean they’re your friend. Social media creates a false sense of intimacy, particularly when people choose to expose a lot about themselves.” Use social media and online connections as a way to start building your network, but nurture relationships face to face.
The importance of networks is proven and here to stay. It’s a long term mechanism for learning and development for you and it will impact your access to opportunities and your career. It can never substitute for hard work and it will require work from you. So start now and learn as you go.