Have you ever heard the expression, "It's not what you know, but who you know"? Well, that’s the idea behind networking. Networking is not a new concept. It has been around for a long time, has taken on many forms and most recently has been dubbed an art, especially when it comes to job searching. How you network can also vary: whether it is speaking to a friend to recommend a film or a hairdresser, introducing yourself to a new neighbour or acquaintance, or attending an event, the possibilities are endless as to what can be considered networking.
However it is done, the core of networking is simply the passing on of information, building relationships with contacts (professional and personal) and maintaining these contacts. What can you do to widen and strengthen your network? There are many ways to become a successful networker, including providing your expert insight and helping another individual get connected to a network they need. One of the smallest but most critical investments you can make in growing your network is being of service.
Be of Service
When it comes to networking, once you realize ‘it’s not always about you’ you can understand the value of giving back to your network. There are easy ways to do this, and being of service to your contacts can be done in many different ways. Consider the individual's or organization's need, and then figure out how you can help fill that need. Listen to what people say and don't be afraid to offer help, not only with business leads, but also personally, for example, recommending a good car mechanic or offering up a copy of a book they could use.
It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but the best way to promote yourself when networking is to put others first. When you make yourself available in a way that can help another person, you open the door for it to be reciprocated in the future. Remember, networking is about sharing, not taking.
Volunteering is yet another way of being of service. It is actually a very effective approach in raising your profile to a potential contact or future employer/network because you get the opportunity to show what you can do.
We have talked about ‘the what’ networking is and how we can do it but not why we do it. Networks, or people resources, offer many different benefits. One of the main goals of networking is to strengthen new and existing relationships. Remember to nurture all of your relationships, whether colleagues, an old neighbour, or your university professor. Networking doesn't just apply to newly established contacts, it is also important for those people you have known for a long time and are keeping in touch with.
Benefits to the 'being of service' approach
Raising your profile:
This is probably one of the most popular goals for those of you trying to successfully network, especially when it comes to career success. By being of service to your network, you make yourself more visible to those that can advance your career and also demonstrate your personal and professional credibility and competency. This type of networking is a great way to market your skills beyond the traditional job search tools, such as a resume and cover letter. Remember that volunteering is also an important part of being of service.
Active networking helps to keep you top of mind when opportunities such as job openings arise, increasing your likelihood of receiving introductions to potentially relevant people or even a referral to a potential employer.
Gaining advice and support:
Getting the advice of experienced peers and discussing common challenges and opportunities can open the door to valuable suggestions and guidance when you need it.
It's important to remember that networking is not about asking for a job, collecting business cards, randomly passing out resumes or using people for information you think they might have. If you looking to widen your professional, personal or academic networks, be clear of your goal and have a strategy in place that will help you achieve it. Whatever your agenda might be when trying to establish and maintain a network, always remember that it is a connection that needs to be maintained, and it involves a back and forth between both parties. Your network can be tapped into repeatedly; networking does not have to be a short-term activity, or something you only pursue when you are job searching.
Also keep in mind that networking does not need to be complicated - you are doing it in your everyday life in some way without even realizing it! Becoming aware of the effect it can have in your life when harnessed effectively will be the key to your success and achieving future personal or professional goals.
Tamara Puhalo, a graduate of George Brown College’s Career and Work Counsellor Program, has been an Employment Consultant for Job Skills for the last five years supporting clients with their job search and providing Career Counselling. She has also been involved with various programs supporting newcomers in Toronto, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work.