There’s a common misconception that networking is a very fake, politician-y type of practice that professionals use to get to the top of the food chain.
In actuality, networking is just a buzzword to describe the practice of surrounding yourself with people who can help you grow as a professional. Moreover, it doesn’t always have to happen in an environment specifically for networking, like a professional development event. It can happen every day in the workplace, in the classroom, on social media, or even via friendships.
Wherever your networking happens – at your college or university, on your LinkedIn, at your company, in the community – here are three key things for young professionals to keep in mind about building their connections.
I. The most powerful resources in your career are the people you know.
Knowledge and skills are absolutely necessary for your career. But if you don’t know how to communicate those skills, and if you don’t know how to get along with others, they are pretty much useless.
Remember that no matter how smart and skilled you are, no one succeeds on their own. You need people. In order to succeed professionally, you must surround yourself with smart thought leaders who are willing to mentor you, work with you, and learn from you.
II. Networking isn’t just about finding future opportunities. It’s also about learning.
If you go into a networking situation with the sole goal of getting a promotion or a new job, you’re missing the point.
Advancement is certainly a benefit of building a strong network – many of us can attest to the fact that connections are crucial to finding new opportunities – but it’s not the end goal. At the end of the day, networking is about bettering yourself; about becoming a well-rounded, more informed professional. And when that happens, the new opportunities will organically sprout up.
Not every connection in your network is going to offer you the same thing. And that’s a good thing. Some people will propel you to new opportunities, some will teach you new skills, some will be your professors and mentors, some will be your friends.
III. Networking is a two-way street.
Don’t be a taker.
Networking isn’t just about “getting.” There’s a give-and-take process.
What can YOU bring to people in your network? Networking should be an exchange of benefits. If you just “use” people on your way up to the top, word will get around and it won’t be good for you in the long run.
No matter where you are in your career, you have a unique story that can help others. Be aware and confident in what your strengths are, so you know what to offer people.