Professional Networking: What Is It? (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 17, 2020
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Professional networking is an important consideration to have when you’re in the process of building your career in a specific industry or field. Professional networking allows you to build relationships with other peers and colleagues within your field. Relationships like this are essential to develop your skills, experience, education, and general support and mentorship.

Professional networking is applicable for individuals of all job titles, from those who have just graduated to those who are executives. Professional networking can be more of a job requirement for people in certain professions, such as sales or marketing. However, its significance should not be diminished for other job fields, as it can significantly benefit all workers.

Networking contacts do not always need to be a level higher than you. They should be someone you connect with on a personal level, regardless of job level. However, you should be conscious of having various contacts that sit in a variety of different places, preferably at different companies and even in different industries.

What Is Professional Networking?

Professional networking is when a person deliberately builds meaningful relationships with other professionals who share their career field or similar and relevant career fields. To network professionally, you should ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial for both parties in some way. It should allow both parties to build, reinforce, and maintain trustworthy relationships with others to further each person’s goals.

Business networking or professional networking should not be a superficial ordeal. Networking is about fostering meaningful, real relationships and trust. When you network professionally, you’re building your professional network, a group of individuals who would do a favor for you and for whom you would return the favor.

Because you are looking to develop meaningful and lasting relationships, this often means you should strive for face-to-face interactions. With the launch of networks such as LinkedIn, the process of networking has become more user-friendly, especially in the digital age.

However, these relationships can be deceiving. It is more challenging to manage and develop a relationship over the internet, and unfortunately, networking invitations on sites such as LinkedIn are normally just looking to benefit the sender. For the best networking results, consider in-person activity if possible.

Who Should You Include in Your Professional Network?

There are a few different people you should consider for your professional network:

  • Teachers. If you were or continue to be close with a teacher or professor, you should consider including them in your professional network. Professors may be more common in this instance, especially if they are an expert in your career field.

    However, don’t exclude any other teachers you may have had, including high school teachers or teachers of a professional course you may have taken.

  • Classmates. You can feel free to include individuals that you shared time within classroom settings. Former classmates are great networking considerations, especially if you worked on joint projects together or simply spent a good amount of time together.

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    If you were part of Greek life, feel free to include sorority or fraternity members you are close with. They can likely vouch for your work ethic through any roles you may have held within the organization.

  • Friends. While it might not be the best to include close friends as references on your job application, you can certainly include them in your professional network. Your friends likely understand your career ambitions, so they can be aware of any opportunities to keep their eye on.

    The same goes in reverse, so you can use your own professional network to help your friends in return.

  • Co-workers. Co-workers are the biggest and one of the best sources for networking peers. You should include former and current co-workers in your network. These people have likely worked very closely with you and have a great understanding of your abilities, work ethic, professional capabilities, and more.

    They can help you figure out how to achieve your goals and help provide feedback and point you in the right direction for your next career steps.

  • Peers in clubs or associations. If you find yourself as a member of a professional organization such as a club or association, you can include your peers in your professional network.

    Spending time with others outside of your profession and immediate work environment is a great way to get different mentorship, perspective, and understanding of new resources.

  • Family. Don’t forget to include family members who may be in your profession as well. Family can be valuable professional networking peers. Even if your family isn’t directly in your professional field, be sure they’re up to date with your career goals. You never know what kind of relationships they may have and can connect you with.

How Can Professional Networking Help Your Career?

The most common way a professional network can help you advance your career is to point you in the right direction when looking for a new job. You should always keep doors open to new opportunities, for when you’re ready to make a career jump or change direction entirely.

However, there are a few different ways you may not have considered that a professional network can help you personally:

  • Learn about a new career path. Networking can help you when you may be considering a career switch. This is a big life decision, and you should never take it lightly. Luckily, you can ask various individuals about their experiences in a different career when you have a vast network.

    Consider interviewing them and asking them some critical questions about how the new career will fit your life, skills, and abilities.

  • Find job candidates. If you are a hiring manager, finding top talent can often be overwhelming or difficult if you don’t personally know who you are bringing in for an interview. If you have an extensive network, you can reach out to them for help in scouting a new candidate for the position you’re hiring for.

    You can also learn about applicants who may not apply through the traditional channels through word-of-mouth from network peers.

  • Get advice. If you’re looking to tackle something that you may not have experience with, you’ll certainly be able to research how to do the task. However, talking to someone you know personally about a similar project might be your most effective way to get a project like this accomplished.

    They may be able to recommend personally vetted resources to use or point you towards a plan template they may have used.

  • Find prospective employers. Job interviews are stressful enough, but having an inside view could ease some of that fear. When you prepare for a job interview, you can learn a lot by talking to current employees and asking about their work culture and expectations.

Professional Networking Tips

There are a few different ways to build and maintain a professional business network that can benefit you:

  • Attend events. Ensure you maintain a presence at networking events and other functions that are optimal for professional networking. Most in-person events will offer substantial time for networking opportunities, including happy hours, dinners, lunches, and more.

    Be sure that you attend these along with the different sessions you’re planning to learn from. Don’t forget your business cards.

  • Maintain a digital presence. Ensure you maintain your regular activity on social and professional media platforms. This will help you stay top-of-mind for your network. LinkedIn is one of the most important social networking sites, but you can maintain our professional presence across a variety of platforms.

  • Focus on the right professionals. Be sure that you’re focused on the profession in which you are interested. Building and fostering relationships within your specific industry is significant to build your opportunities in this area. Focus on meeting and building relationships with those who have expertise in the field you choose.

  • Don’t forget to keep in touch. Nothing is worse than meeting someone you have a great interaction with and then never hearing from them again. Ensure you stay in contact with your networking contacts by sending them regular messages, setting up a time to chat via phone, or interacting with them on a digital platform.

  • Return the favors. Be sure that if you receive help from one of your networking contacts, you are actively attempting to return the favors for them. Equally as important, be sure to help connections even if they haven’t helped you first. Remember, networking is a two-way street, and you have to provide help to receive help.

  • Be thankful. Remember that your networking contacts do not owe you anything. If they go out of their way to help you or provide you with a reference or helping hand in a potential job, be sure to thank them.

    Show your gratitude in a professional way that emphasizes how much they have helped you. Even if your return favor is small, it’s still significant and important to maintain your relationship with your networking contact.

  • Share your knowledge. Similar to returning favors, be willing to share your knowledge with any contacts you may make who might be earlier in their career than you. Remember, we all start somewhere, and a bit of advice or knowledge could benefit a peer in ways you may not even imagine.

    This makes them much more likely to engage positively with you and to surface you as a recommendation, should a new opportunity arise for you.

  • Stay relevant. Professions can change quickly, and skills, experiences, and abilities can become outdated swiftly. Be sure to open yourself up to learning new things, staying up-to-date with recent events, programs, and developments in your career. And, be sure to share this information with contacts in your own professional network as well.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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