What Is Professional Networking? (With Examples)

By Caitlin Mazur
Aug. 9, 2022
Skills Based Articles

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Networking allows you to build and maintain relationships with other professionals in your field. Relationships like this are essential for the continual growth of your skills and knowledge base, as well as for general career support and mentorship.

Professional networking isn’t just for sales folks and big whig executives — individuals at every level of their career, from recent college graduates to tenured professors, benefit from these relationships.

For some, the idea of networking seems scary and horribly inauthentic. But when you really get into the nuts and bolts of a professional network, it boils down to a loosely affiliated social group based on shared professional interests.

Let’s take a look at what professional networking is exactly, how it can help you, and how to improve your networking experience right away.

Key Takeaways:

  • Your professional network is built of relationships that can help you advance your career.

  • Professional networks are two-way streets. You need to be able to offer something in return in the relationship.

  • Coworkers, teachers, classmates, friends, and family can all be members of your professional network.

  • Professional networking can help you find job openings and/or job candidates.

  • Stay in touch with members of your network. Check in periodically to maintain the relationship.

What Is Professional Networking? (With Examples)

What Is Professional Networking?

Professional networking is when a person deliberately builds meaningful relationships with other professionals in their industry, field, or other relevant 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.

When networking professionally, you should always strive for more than superficial trading of favors. True networking is about fostering meaningful, real relationships and trust. When you’re building your professional network, always keep this mutual benefit in mind.

With the launch of networks such as LinkedIn, the process of networking has become more convenient than ever. Still, if you’re looking to develop meaningful and lasting relationships, you should opt for face-to-face interactions when possible.

Online relationships can be deceiving, and it’s more challenging to manage and develop a relationship over the internet. For the best networking results, consider in-person activity if possible.

Types Of Professional Networking

The three types of professional networking are operational, personal, and strategic.

  1. Operational. An operational network is made up of people who are involved in your current job. Your boss, coworkers, employees, clients, vendors — anyone who you rely on for your job’s function is a member of your operational network.

  2. Personal. Personal networking is mostly what we’ve been discussing throughout this article. It refers to the relationships you build and/or maintain outside of the context of your current job. Former colleagues, professors, friends, people you meet at networking events — these are the folks in your personal network.

  3. Strategic. Your strategic network blends the two. A close friend and colleague who quits but stays in your field and remains a contact in both a work context and personal context afterward is a member of your strategic network.

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. College professors tend to be included more frequently in networks, for their built-in set of academic contacts, subject matter expertise, and ability to form more meaningful relationships with adult students.

    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. Former classmates are great networking considerations, especially if you worked on joint projects together or simply spent a good amount of time together. Your peers are out there living in the same job market you are, and being at the same level means they’re likely running into the same sorts of opportunities.

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking these people are your competitors. The more eyes and ears you have out there bringing you news about who’s hiring, the more access you have to a whole hidden job market that doesn’t exist anywhere online.

    Additionally, 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.

  • Coworkers. Coworkers are the biggest and one of the best sources for networking peers. You should include former and current coworkers 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.

Why Professional Networking Is Important

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

Professional Networking FAQ

  • Why is professional networking important? Professional networking is important for staying current and competitive in the job market. Professionals with high-quality networks have access to more resources both for completing their current job more competently and finding a new job should the need arise.

    Up to 80% of jobs are never listed publically and only exist in the hidden job market. Having a strong network ensures that you see the full breadth of opportunities available to you.

  • What are examples of networking? Examples of networking include going to a business conference and chatting with likeminded individuals, meeting up with a former colleague for lunch, emailing a client to wish them a happy birthday, and having an informal brainstorming session with coworkers at the end of each week.

    Truly any social interaction that happens in the context of your career is a moment of networking. Even the regular daily interactions you have with your colleagues count as networking because they strengthen and maintain professional relationships.

  • How do I practice networking? To practice networking, start by focusing on others. Be curious and ask questions about their ideas. Listen actively and find ways to connect on approaches, ideas, or areas of interest that you share.

    A bit of personality mirroring is natural and okay, but do your best to be authentic with everyone you meet. Having a small network of quality connections is better than having 1,000 connections on LinkedIn and not knowing who any of them are.

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Caitlin Mazur

Caitlin Mazur is a freelance writer at Zippia. Caitlin is passionate about helping Zippia’s readers land the jobs of their dreams by offering content that discusses job-seeking advice based on experience and extensive research. Caitlin holds a degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA.

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