The why and how of building a strong professional network
Networking is one of the most important skills in a modern-day career
This is something I once said to my colleagues when we were discussing what is involved in finding another job.
You know the expression it takes a village to raise a child? Well, I personally think it takes a network to build a career.
I truly believe one of your strongest assets is your professional network. Skills and experience only get you so far. A network enables you to grow connections and discover new opportunities.
These opportunities could be job opportunities, or they could be opportunities to share challenges, resources and ideas.
A few years ago, I read that only 30% of job vacancies are filled by companies advertising the position. The remaining 70%? They are filled through networks. In recent years this figure is now up to 85% of jobs are being filled through networks.
Would you rather seek or be sought after?
Through my professional network I have been contacted about many job opportunities over my career. Not all opportunities suited me – whether it was timing or interest. But it is still a nice compliment to know you are being thought of.
Each time I am contacted about something that does not suit I politely decline, and thank them for thinking of me, and leave the door open for future contact. You never know, what may not be a good opportunity now, may be a brilliant option in future.
However, there have been times where my network has helped me get the next job. I was contacted by a former boss and they asked me what I was up to. At the time I was travelling overseas, but when I returned we caught up for a coffee and I started in my new role shortly after.
Networking is not just about jobs
I have previously written about connection and community as a contributing factor to finding your life’s purpose.
Ken Mogi, author of The Little Book of Ikigai, encourages us to think of ourselves as a tree in a forest – we are individual, yet we are all connected and reliant on each other for our growth.
Our professional network is a way we can help each other grow. Through sharing our knowledge and expertise, helping us learn about ourselves, and through introducing us to others who expand our ability to grow.
Throughout my career I have called upon others when I have had a challenge and I was unsure how to go about addressing it. I contacted people who I knew had expertise in the area and asked their thoughts.
Likewise, I have had others contact me to run their problems past me and seek my ideas to help them address the issue. Both types of interaction have helped me grow my abilities and further strengthen the connections in my professional network.
How Do You Network?
The simplest way is by forming strong relationships with the colleagues you currently work with.
We are no longer in a time where we have one employer for life.
When I started working in the early 2000s it was said that you would have seven career changes in your lifetime. With the rise of the gig economy I think these days it more like we have seven roles or sources of income at once.
Well, maybe not seven at once. But I know plenty of people who have some form of secondary employment or side-hustle than not.
With this transience comes the ability to rapidly meet more people in a faster timeframe.
Whether you are planning on moving on to a new role or employer, or your colleagues are planning on moving on and there will be a new addition to the team, there is always the opportunity to meet another person who could provide your next great collaborative work experience or network opportunity.
Engaging in professional networking events is of course one of the other common ways to expand your network.
I enjoy networking events. As an introvert, and someone working on their confidence, this may seem an odd statement to make.
But I feel it can be sometimes easier to start a conversation with someone who is previously unknown to me. There is no expectation. I enjoy the opportunity to learn about them, discover commonalities and bond over shared interests or experiences.
At networking events everyone is there for the same purpose – to meet new people. I don’t let my nerves get in the way of this.
I simply take a breath, walk up to someone or a small group of people, smile and join in their conversation. Asking questions and being genuinely curious about others is a nice way to enter a discussion, rather than feeling you have to talk about yourself.
Through blogging I have met so many wonderfully creative and helpful people. But we haven’t met in person. It has been online.
I may never meet these people in real life. But that doesn’t mean the connections are not as important or valuable to me.
One such place I have met some inspiring and encouraging people is through Medium. Medium is a platform where you can share ideas and perspectives. Either you can contribute to the discussion as a writer and post your own thoughts and experiences on a topic. Or you can read other people’s posts and continue the discussion through commenting on their post.
It is an intelligent, supportive, inspiring and welcoming community. Writers share stories over a range of topics from science and politics to self-improvement, business and culture.
This is a place where I have grown my network of fellow writers and I appreciate their feedback and encouragement as I develop my skills in writing. But I also appreciate the ability to read and learn about other topics and perspectives to broaden my knowledge.
Your Professional Network
Networks have helped me. How could they help you?
I encourage you to think of one way you can grow your professional network over the next week. Is there an event you can attend, or register for (and commit to attending), or can you find an online community that shares your interests and can help you reach your goals? Or can you reach out to a former colleague and re-connect with them?
Whichever way you go about it, it is always a good time to build a stronger professional network.