Networking: Building Relationships to Develop Your Career
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Anyone who works with Gen Z is focused on career readiness right now, and networking is a vital component of self-development and building your career.
For the past ten years, experts in education and employment have been concerned about the Gen Z career-readiness and soft skills deficit. Because Gen Z students and graduates are digital natives, they spend an unprecedented amount of time online. This screen time causes soft skills to atrophy, and soft skills are a huge part of career readiness.
Employers are feeling the pain related to this Gen Z skills gap. Companies seek to hire college graduates who already possess solid career-readiness training and soft skills.
What is career readiness? How can college graduates acquire it?
Career Readiness & Career Development
Career readiness includes skills, awareness, and education, which prepare job seekers for career success.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) considers career readiness a “foundation from which to demonstrate requisite core competencies that broadly prepare the college-educated for success in the workplace and lifelong career management.”
According to NACE, career readiness includes eight core competencies:
- career development
- critical thinking
- equity & inclusion
Many employment and workplace experts also emphasize additional career readiness competencies, including agility, work ethic, financial literacy, social-emotional learning, and perseverance.
Career development is at the top of the list of NACE Core Competencies for a reason. Without it, most college graduates have difficulty with many aspects of the process — job searching, the application, hiring, and onboarding. Without solid career development skills, entry-level employees may discover they feel out of place at work or uncertain about their career trajectory.
These feelings lead to isolating from others, feeling stuck in toxic work environments, and job-hopping tendencies.
Authentic career development creates a firm foundation for future job searches. Career development involves continual learning, self-awareness, career exploration, and building a professional network.
What exactly is networking?
It’s a workplace word that refers to the process of connecting, building rapport, and maintaining relationships professionally.
When job seekers network, they create a group — a network — of colleagues, leaders, friends, and experts who contribute to their job searches, offer guidance in the career journey, and assist in finding career fulfillment.
Networking is a two-way street, though. Just as your network helps you, you help your network. The give-and-take nature of networking is what makes the process work and keeps it working.
Why Networking Matters
If you’re hesitant to start networking, that’s understandable.
Many job seekers and seasoned professionals balk at opportunities to network with others. They may hide in their rooms when attending conferences for fear of being forced into awkward conversations. Or they skip out on career fairs during college because they dread meeting employer after employer.
This behavior is common, but it’s detrimental to your career success and fulfillment. There are many reasons professionals believe networking is absolutely essential to career success.
But don’t take our word for it. Check out the statistics related to networking:
- 85% of jobs are filled via networking (HubSpot)
- 70% of jobs are never published publicly (CNBC)
- In 2016, 70% of job seekers who landed jobs already had a connection within the company or organization (LinkedIn)
- Almost half of sales professionals who close deals cite their relationships with clients as the cause for success (Oxford Economics)
- 92% of people surveyed by Forbes believe networking saves time
- 88% of people surveyed by Forbes believe networking saves money
If you want to land a great job more quickly and easily, and if you want to save money in the process, networking is your new career BFF.
But how do you create a network in the first place? And once you’ve built your network, how do you maintain it?
Building Your Network
Once you see networking for what it really is — building give-and-take, beneficial relationships with other professionals — you may stop feeling so hesitant about doing it. But what should you actually DO to properly and effectively build your network? Here are four tips to get you started with networking.
Tip 1: Make New Connections Effectively and Appropriately
Don’t be afraid to be the first one to reach out, whether you meet someone face-to-face or online. However, you should follow some general principles of competent communication and etiquette.
- Contact people during business hours if possible. Professionals have private lives, and it’s best to avoid intruding.
- Meet in public places for your safety and the safety of others.
- Do not show up to a place of business unannounced unless you’re simply dropping off your resume or a small token of appreciation.
- Don’t make requests of others when you initially meet; build some rapport before you ask someone to help you out (or offer to help them).
Events and Gatherings
If you aren’t sure where to meet new professionals, check with your local Chamber of Commerce.
Most cities regularly host gatherings for new and early professionals and have other networking events. Also, seize any chance you get to attend professional conferences and training sessions. When you do, make it a point to introduce yourself to at least five new people.
One other way to meet like-minded people is to volunteer. Nonprofit organizations always need volunteers, and when you serve alongside others, you naturally build rapport.
Bonus: You contribute to the mission of an organization you care about at the same time.
After meeting new professionals, whether at a conference or in a Facebook group, you should follow up.
If you don’t follow up by requesting a meeting or connecting on social media, you will potentially lose all that effort you invested in the initial networking event or meeting. Don’t waste your effort and time. Spend it wisely by thinking of the initial meeting as the first investment in a long professional relationship that will benefit both of you.
Tip 2: Maintain Connection
After you follow up with your new contacts, be sure to touch base with your contacts regularly. You can do this organically with a small group of people, but if you are trying to maintain a connection with hundreds or thousands of contacts, it may seem challenging.
Find a system that works for you. It might be helpful to make a list of key professionals with whom you want to maintain contact. You can do this in a spreadsheet, on paper, in a database, or on a platform that works for you.
An easy organic way to network is to reach out to people when you hear of news, job announcements, or volunteer opportunities they may be interested in. This lets other professionals know you’re thinking of them without seeming creepy and overbearing.
You can also occasionally tag people in the comments of posts on LinkedIn if it might interest them. But use tagging with caution!
And lastly, don’t hesitate to invite your professional contacts to join social groups online, chime in on important issues, or attend professional networking events.
Tip 3: Make Yourself Available
If you want to build great relationships with others, you have to make yourself available for networking.
Share business cards and add your contacts on social media. Be sure people can reach you somehow, whether through LinkedIn messages, texting, or email.
If you don’t share your contact information, you can’t expect any of your new connections to reach out.
You also have to say “yes” more often if you want to spend time talking to others, interacting with groups, and learning from your new contacts.
Even if you don’t enjoy group activities or organized networking events, don’t say no to every invitation. You may miss some great opportunities to meet your next boss, future business partner, or potential mentor.
Tip 4: Ask Your Mentor for Help
If you feel really stuck regarding networking, don’t sit in your apartment feeling lonely or wishing you had more professional contacts. Ask your mentor for help.
Your mentor probably knows many people you don’t. And if you’ve built a great rapport with your mentor, they won’t mind introducing you to a few of them.
If you don’t have a mentor, get one. Consider it a crucial step not only for networking but also for career fulfillment.
Once you have walked through the four stages of career development — continual learning, self-awareness, career exploration, and networking — you’re ready! It’s time to prepare job search materials and start applying for jobs.
Don’t forget to check out the great resources on Lensa throughout your job search and career journey.