Networking like a pro: Here’s how to use it to advance your career | Workplace News

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Have you ever used a reference to get a new job? or attended a conference to gain new insights? or just sought career advice on social media? If you answered affirmatively to any of the above, you’ve actively engaged in professional networking — the importance of which in today’s world cannot be overstated.

Nevertheless, embarking on the journey of building a professional network can appear daunting, with questions like “Where should I start?”, “How can I leverage this network to advance my career?” and “What are the dos and don’ts?” surfacing. To shed light on these inquiries, we’ve reached out to industry leaders and experts across various sectors.

What are the benefits of building a professional network?

Building a strong professional network is crucial for both personal and career growth, said Anshul Agrawal, director, Mysore Deep Perfumery House & ZedBlack. This is regardless of whether you’re employed, running a business or navigating student life. “The saying ‘your network is your net worth’ holds true,” he added.

Sharing his own experience, Agrawal said during his time studying at IIT, his networking efforts helped him secure a job opportunity in 2007. “Having formed close connections with seniors who had interned at the organisation, I gained valuable insights into the company. Using this information, I successfully applied and was selected for the position.”

This sentiment resonates widely. In fact, according to a 2017 LinkedIn survey, 80 per cent of professionals consider professional networking important for career success, with 70 percent of them stating that they were hired in a company where they had a connection.

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Similarly, Meenu Anand, a leading HR professional, cultivated a strong network to gain deep insights and establish a strong foothold in her sector. As someone who struggled to keep updated with the emerging trends and best practices in human resources, networking allowed her to stay ahead of the curve. “With the help of meetings, events and social media platforms, I have been able to gain access to recent market trends, fresh perspectives, new ideas and gain visibility within the sector,” she said.

Not only this. Entrepreneurs, too, have a lot to benefit from professional networking, such as Manish Bansal, director and CEO of Window Magic, who attributes the success of his brand to his network. “As a businessman, building a professional network helped broaden my circle of influence among a larger section of society, and enhanced the trust and credibility of my brand. Opportunities for panel discussions and speaker engagements also arose through networking that made me forge stronger ties with other professionals and industries, which have all aided in maintaining the imagery and salience the brand enjoys.”

This holds true. Research published by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2016 found that networking is responsible for the success of 78 per cent of startups. According to the study, entrepreneurs who participated in a greater number of networking activities were more likely to experience positive outcomes such as increased profitability, revenue growth, innovation, capitalisation and talent acquisition.

Tips to build a professional network

building a professional network,career networking tips, benefits of professional networking, how to network effectively Discover how networking can help build valuable connections, land dream jobs, and gain career insights. (Source: Freepik)

The first step, as per Ambreen Virk, CHRO, MyTrident, is to have clear goals. “Whether it’s finding a job, seeking mentorship, gaining industry insights or expanding your client base, having set priorities will ensure your networking effects are aligned to the outcome,” she advised.

Virk also recommends building a network “as early as possible”. “While it is never too late to start, building a network while you’re still in college can help achieve your career goals.”

Next is to identify the right platform for networking, from social media to offline interactions. “Finding communities where like-minded individuals converge is essential. While LinkedIn is an effective networking platform, platforms such as Toastmasters International, Entrepreneurs Organization, YPO (Young Professionals Organization), Lions Club, and Rotary Club offer unique networking opportunities,” Agrawal said, adding that “it’s not just about joining, but actively participating and getting involved.”

Agrawal emphasises the importance of quality over quantity. “Have you heard the phrase: ‘you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with’? Well, aligning yourself with individuals who share common goals is crucial for personal and professional development.”

However, building a professional network is an ongoing process, said Prachi Kaushik, founder and director, Vyomini. “Professional networking requires constant effort, patience, and the zeal to grow. Connecting once is not enough. Keeping in touch, following up and conversing beyond the limits of requirement builds a relationship based on trust, shared ideas and understanding. So, be consistent and real with the people you wish to build your professional networks with.”

Additionally, giving back to your network is equally important, said Rajesh Bharatiya, CEO, Peoplefy. “As you progress in your career, don’t forget to pay it forward by helping others in your network. You can do this by offering mentorship to juniors, making introductions between connections, sharing job opportunities or resources, whenever possible. By helping and supporting others in your network without expecting immediate returns, you are practicing good karma and cultivating positive relationships that’ll create future opportunities for advancement and success in your career.

Dos and don’ts

Sheenu Arora, director of human resources, Eros Hotel, Nehru Place, New Delhi, shared the following to help you navigate the world of networking effectively:

Dos:

1. Attend networking events: Actively participate in networking events and sessions to expand your network. Exchange business cards for sharing contacts and follow up with personalised messages or email communication.

2. Offer support: Networking is a two-way street. Be willing to offer support as and when needed. Share your expertise or learnings with others in your network if it helps strengthen connections.

3. Stay consistent: Engage regularly with network professionals on platforms like LinkedIn to stay connected. Be part of relevant groups and participate in discussions to gain visibility and build relationships.

4. Follow up: Don’t hesitate to follow up after initial interactions. Sometimes, if you haven’t heard back, a polite follow-up can reignite the conversation and lead to further opportunities.

5. Listen intently: Networking is not just about speaking and presenting yourself. Take the time to listen to others and be open to hearing their interests and insights. Authentic connections are built on mutual understanding and respect.

Don’ts:

1. Be discouraged by rejection: Not every networking interaction will lead to immediate success. Don’t be discouraged by rejection and keep pursuing opportunities. The right connections will come in time.

2. Oversell yourself: While it’s important to highlight your skills and experiences, avoid overselling yourself. Focus on adding value to your connections and building mutually beneficial relationships.

3. Approach networking selfishly: Don’t approach networking solely as a means to gain something for yourself. Instead, focus on building genuine relationships based on mutual respect and shared interests.

In essence, Bansal noted that nurturing a professional network is like raising a child. “You must devote time, effort, give it care and qualitative attention, and above all keep adding value to the network — just like you would do to your child — to help the network grow and flourish.”

Workplace Wellbeing is a weekly series about the ins and outs of our work lives.


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