Why You Need to Network (And How to Do It Well!)
In my work as a career coach, I’ve seen that networking is hands down one of the most confusing and intimidating topics for many job seekers.
But it’s also critical to landing a new job! In this post, I want to help demystify the process and overcome some of the negative perceptions out there about networking.
For many people, the idea of networking feels “icky”, transactional, or intimidating. And understandably so, if you think about it solely as a means to getting your next job.
I felt that way too when I first started doing it. It felt like something I “had” to do, but I wasn’t really sure why, or how to go about it. I think many of us feel that way and are hesitant to reach out and ask for something, especially from people we don’t know.
But if you reframe networking as expanding your professional circle and meeting new people who share your interests, it can start to feel different. It can become a habit and a way to build mutually helpful relationships, instead of feeling like a chore.
As one of my clients shares, “I know someone who is constantly networking, although he wouldn’t think of it that way – he’s just a friendly and curious guy. This translates into an impressive and active network.”
That’s the idea. Networking doesn’t have to be all about asking for favors, but there’s a key mindset shift that needs to happen for that to be true: we need to stop thinking of networking as “something I have to do to get a job” and start thinking of it as “something I want to do to create value for myself and others.”
Today, I want to share four ways you can build valuable professional relationships and grow and cultivate your own network.
Let go of your expectations
Even if you are actively job searching, try to let go of the urgency of finding your next role as you are meeting people, so that you can focus on building relationships for the long-term.
One of the reasons networking can feel so scary is that we put such big expectations on it – “if I just impress this person enough, they’ll give me a job!” When you let go of these expectations and focus on having great conversations and learning from others, it can alleviate some of this pressure.
As one client shares, “Over the years, I have learned that networking is not about getting a job. It’s about meeting interesting people. Focusing on that takes the pressure off.” This is also important because it’s impossible to predict what the outcome of a conversation will be.
Sometimes a meeting leads right away to an opportunity that’s a great fit. Sometimes there is not an immediate next step, but months or years later that person will think of you for something great (this has happened to me more than once!). You just don’t know how things will go, so enter into every conversation with an open and curious mind and seek to provide value in addition to gaining it.
Think about what you can offer
Following up on the point above, one of the most powerful ways to build trust and relationships is to create value for others. It’s like putting money in the bank – at some point you may ask for a favor, and consistently being a giver without expecting anything in return makes it far more likely that people will be willing to help you in your hour of need. (See Adam Grant’s fantastic book Give and Take for more about how having a giving mindset can drive success).
As one of my clients shares, “It can feel awkward, knowing that you’re contacting someone to ask for a favor. I’ve been focusing more on the fact that if I’ve contacted this person, it’s because I am genuinely interested in what they do, and that I have an opportunity to have a great conversation with an interesting person, regardless of outcome. Thinking about networking as an opportunity to offer some value to them also alleviates some of the inherent awkwardness!”
Be thoughtful and thorough with your follow up
This is one area where even well-intentioned people often drop the ball. The success of your networking is highly dependent on when and how you follow up. Expressing gratitude for someone’s time and advice after you meet with them goes a long way, and staying in touch ensures that they’ll continue to think of you as they hear of opportunities – and that you can continue to help them too!
Make it a habit to circle back with people you meet with to let them know how you followed their advice. If they introduced you to someone else, follow up after you meet with the contact they recommended to thank them again and let them know how it went. Email them when you see a resource or link that relates to their work, and congratulate them on successes. Regularly post interesting and relevant content on LinkedIn that people in your network will find valuable.
Make relationship building part of your routine
One of the biggest regrets I often hear from my clients is that they wish they had done more networking before they were thinking about making a career transition. One client shares, “I did not understand how important it is to build a network along the way. It just wasn’t a mindset for me, and I’ve missed real opportunities throughout my career to build those connections.”
If this sounds like you, don’t worry – it’s never too late to start building your network! The key is to make it more of a habit and build it into your routine, even when you’re not job searching.
Joining a coworking space like Impact Hub and networking with other members is an easy way to build connections with people who share common interests. You can also check out the tons of networking events and groups here in Seattle (beyond the many great events happening at Impact Hub, I recommend Global WA, I Love Seattle, and my quarterly Social Impact Networking Happy Hours!).
Finally, don’t forget about volunteering, which can be a great way to give back to an organization whose mission you care about while simultaneously building new connections. Check out Volunteer Match or Impact Hub member Seattle Works to find opportunities that align with your interests.
To be clear, none of these ideas are revolutionary. They are ways to take a thoughtful and intentional approach to this process and to treat others as you would want to be treated. Starting with these practices, let’s reframe networking from something scary or burdensome into what it really should be: giving and receiving valuable gifts of time, information, and trust between professionals.
Erin Ewart is a career coach for social impact professionals, helping mission-driven job seekers find and land jobs they love. Prior to starting her business, Erin spent over 15 years as a recruiter and worked for a diverse set of organizations across sectors, including Google and the U.S State Department. Learn more about Erin on her website: https://erinewart.com