Do you dread networking? Here's why it's time to change your perspective.

We get it — networking isn't at the top of everyone's to-do list. It can be time-consuming, downright awkward on occasion, and — depending on your networking personality — incredibly draining. When your calendar is already overcrowded with work appointments and family commitments, the last thing you want to do is make small talk with strangers at yet another cocktail party.

However, there's no denying the power a strong professional network can have over your career success. When it's done well, networking will not only help you land a job faster, but it will give you a competitive edge throughout every stage of your career. Here's why networking is important to your success, and what you can do to improve your networking skills throughout the course of your career development.

What is networking?

Networking isn't merely the exchange of information with others — and it's certainly not about begging for favors. Networking is about establishing, building, and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with the people you meet, whether you're waiting to order your morning coffee, participating in an intramural sports league, or attending a work conference. You don't have to join several professional associations and attend every networking event that comes your way in order to be a successful networker. In fact, if you take your eyes off your smartphone when you're out in public, you'll see that networking opportunities are all around you every day. 

Why networking is important to your success

Experts agree that the most connected people are often the most successful. When you invest in your relationships — professional and personal — it can pay you back in dividends throughout the course of your career. Networking is essential since it will help you develop and improve your skill set, stay on top of the latest trends in your industry, keep a pulse on the job market, meet prospective mentors, partners, and clients, and gain access to the necessary resources that will foster your career development.

The importance of networking for career development

Career development, in its simplest terms, is the lifelong evolution of your career. It's influenced by a number of things that include the jobs you hold, the experiences you gain in and out of the office, the growth and success you achieve at each stage of your career, the formal and informal education and training you receive, and the feedback you're provided with along the way.

Ideally, organizations would place more emphasis on employee development in the workplace. However, the reality is that we live in what Carter Cast, author of the book, “The Right (and Wrong) Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made,” refers to as “the era of do-it-yourself career development.”

Cast explains that in today's workforce, the burden is on you to take control of your career development. Hence the importance of networking for career development: As you network with people at your company, in your industry, and even outside your field of interest, you'll uncover opportunities to connect with different types of mentors and advisors, increase your visibility with senior management, further develop your areas of expertise, and improve your soft skills.

Related: 5 Ways a Mentor Can Boost Your Career Development

The importance of networking in the workplace

You may assume that networking is an activity reserved for your time out of the office and off the clock, but nothing could be further from the truth. While there is much value in connecting with people who work at other companies or in different fields, don't discount the importance of networking in the workplace. Whether you're new to the company and want to get the lay of the land or you're already established and have your sights set on a promotion, networking with your co-workers can be incredibly beneficial to your career progression.

As you develop relationships with colleagues in your department and in other divisions, be on the lookout for potential mentors, upcoming professional development opportunities, or new job opportunities that are not publicly advertised. Click on the following link for tips to help you effectively network in the workplace.

The importance of networking in the job search

It goes without saying that networking is incredibly important during a job search. Your chances of landing the job increase tenfold with the right employee referral. And, if you're looking to make a career change, your professional network can support you by helping you find connections in the industry you are trying to break into or helping you find leads for jobs at specific companies.

Take the time to build meaningful relationships with those in your professional circle, so when the time comes to search for work, you can tap into those valuable connections for referrals, insights into job leads, and other valuable information.

Related: How to Network Your Way Into the Hidden Job Market

How to become an effective networker

The importance of networking cannot be overstated. But how can you improve your networking skills to ensure you're networking efficiently and effectively? These networking tips will help. 

Figure out what networking style works best for you.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to networking. Different people are successful using different networking tactics. The key is to try out a number of different networking strategies to discover what best suits you. For instance, if you're networking and you're an introvert, you may prefer to network one-on-one over coffee or to attend more intimate events with fewer attendees. Once you've discovered your ideal networking style, consider where you can go to meet the right people who can help you achieve your current career-development goals. 

Career Quiz: What Networking Type Best Fits Your Personality?

Network outside the box

You don't have to attend the traditional cocktail party in order to be a successful networker. Look for opportunities to network strategically in every facet of your life. Deena Baikowitz, Chief Networking Officer and co-founder of Fireball Network, suggests choosing networking events and organizations that matter to you.

“Start where you're motivated to meet new people with common professional or personal interests,” Baikowitz advises. Think about what you're passionate about and the types of people with whom you're most comfortable. This could be networking with your alma mater's local chapter, a community organization, or a swim team. Baikowitz also suggests volunteering to find a new job or to advance your career:

“Volunteering is an excellent way to develop your network, show your value, learn about different career paths and opportunities, and to give back and do good.” It's a win-win.

Click on the following link for more tips on how to grow your professional network in different ways.

Make a game plan

While you don't need to know exactly what you expect to get out of each networking opportunity, it's important to head into each activity with a goal. For example, you may attend an event with the goal of connecting with three new people in your industry or bringing back one new insight to share with your co-workers.

Follow up

It's a simple task, yet many professionals neglect this critical step in the networking process. The time you invested in speaking with someone new won't benefit your career development if you fail to follow up afterward. While you don't need to send a long, heartfelt message immediately after meeting someone new, you should send a LinkedIn connection request with a personalized message sooner rather than later. Save the thoughtful message when you have something valuable to share or a specific reason to reach out.

Pay it forward

Look for opportunities to provide value to those in your network before you ask for help. The more you invest in your relationships, the more you'll learn about your new connections and the easier it will be to offer assistance — and get it in return! The value you provide isn't limited to the workplace; this could be anything from a hotel recommendation to an introduction to someone in your personal network.

Final thoughts on the importance of networking

It's never too early — or too late — to invest in your network. The best way to improve your networking skills is to put yourself out there and give it a try. According to Baikowitz, "the worst networking mistake you can make is not trying at all."

Click on the following link for more networking tips.

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