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The Importance of Networking

People networking and brainstorming in an office

Whether you’re looking for information, advice or a job, networking is a useful skill. 70% of jobs are filled by people who heard about them through their networks. 

Building a network can seem like a huge challenge. For many people, the idea of asking others for information and help feels uncomfortable. Once you know how to network, you’ll feel more confident about reaching out. 

Jump to:

What is networking?

Networking means connecting with people you know or meet and asking them for advice, information, and referrals to other people. Even if you’re not looking for work, it’s important to keep networking so you have the connections you need when you are job hunting.

Networking is a great way to find out about:

  • Jobs that have not been advertised
  • Occupations you might be interested in
  • Education and training programs
  • Companies you may want to work for

When you ask people you know to either help you or refer you to someone else, your network grows. It becomes not only the people you know, but also the people they know. Networking works because people tend to be more open to talking with someone if they know the person who referred them.

You can network anywhere and at any time–either in person, over the phone, or online. Networking is a two-way street. When you network well, you give as much information, advice, and support as you get.

Who can be in your network?

When you think about who is in your network, consider everyone you know. Most people are happy to help others, and you never know who they know or how they might be able to connect you to your next opportunity.

Your network begins with the people you feel most comfortable contacting:

  • Family, friends, and neighbours
  • People you’ve worked or gone to school with, past and present
  • People you know socially, and through religious and community groups

It can be hard to think about family and good friends as part of your professional network. But your sister, best friend, or favourite uncle who are successful in their careers and able to help you. When you spend time with them, talk about more than just personal topics. Ask them about their work and talk to them about your work, your interests your career goals.

At the next level, your network includes people such as:

  • Contacts from professional associations, alumni groups, or unions
  • Professionals you deal with, like dentists, doctors, or lawyers
  • Teachers, former employers, and instructors

Many professional, industry, and alumni associations, and some unions, offer networking services to their members. Look at their websites to find out. Even if you’re not a member, you may be able to see an organization’s online newsletter and find contacts and opportunities.

Here are some places you can look:

Your teachers can also be a great resource. They can provide you with letters of reference and help you get work, win scholarships, and get accepted into programs. In post-secondary school, a teacher can give you a job as a research assistant or summer student or connect you with colleagues who have opportunities that align with your studies.

Start building your network

If you’re having trouble getting started, try this exercise:

1. Make a list of headings on your computer or a sheet of paper:

  • Relatives and family friends
  • Your friends and their families
  • Neighbours
  • Acquaintances
  • Parents of your children’s friends
  • Community contacts, such as members of religious organizations and volunteer groups
  • Members of your professional association
  • Professionals you deal with
  • Teachers or former teachers
  • Others

2. List as many people as you can under each heading.

3. Highlight the names of the people you feel closest to or most comfortable contacting.

4. Get in touch with your close contacts first:

  • Ask them for information about occupations, industries, specific employers, and job leads.
  • See if they can give you a referral, or support and advice.

5. Keep your list up to date by adding names as your network expands. 

Develop your networking skills

Networking can be informal or formal. If you find it hard to network, you may want to start informally by talking with people you know—for example, classmates or the other parents at your kid’s soccer game. Once you get the hang of it, you can start networking more formally.

Tips for informal networking:

  • Tell everyone in your network what you’re looking for, whether it’s information or job leads.
  • Ask people to keep their eyes and ears open for you. If the people you talk to don’t have the information or job leads you need, ask if they can refer you to someone who might.
  • Carry business cards with your name, phone number, and email address. Hand them out to people as you talk to them.
  • If you have a job, you might want to keep your work search confidential. Ask your contacts for general information about their work or company rather than asking directly for job leads.

Network more formally by following up on referrals by phone, email or in person.

Tips for following up on referrals:

  • Tell the person who referred you.
  • Tell the person exactly what kind of information you need.
  • Describe the type of people you want to meet.
  • Describe the kind of job you are looking for, if you’re job hunting.
  • Describe your qualifications.
  • Keep the conversation or message short.
  • Always thank the person.

Take your networking to the next level by attending formal networking events in your area. These events are often targeted to a specific occupation or industry. A Google search should be all you need to get started.

Tips for networking at formal events:

  • Be friendly. Say hello to anyone you know but keep it brief.
  • Mingle! You’re there to meet new people.
  • Scan the room. Approach a small group or person and introduce yourself. Mention your job or the occupation and field you’re interested in.
  • Bring lots of business cards and hand them out freely.
  • Ask people for their business cards and whether you can follow up.

Call or email your new contacts within a few days. Remind the person how you met by being specific about where you met and what you had discussed. Ask a question about their field or offer them some information. Tell them about your work or work search.

Develop your online networking skills

Networking online has become an important tool for making good connections. The Internet opens up many new and possibly powerful ways to connect with people and expand your network. You can use many different tools to network online, including:

  • Email
  • Social networking sites
  • Professional networking sites
  • Blogs and online communities

Think about the differences between in-person networking and online networking before you get started. Here are some tips for networking online:

  • Protect your privacy and security. Use your privacy settings to control who has access to specific areas of your profiles.
  • Be professional. Online communication such as text messages and emails to friends can be casual. But when you network online for business reasons, keep your messages business-like, short, and not too personal. Do not use text-message short-hand (LOL, SMH, LMK), or emoticons and emoji.
  • Be persistent. Networking online lets you cast a wide net and then choose the work-related contacts you want to continue with. You may have to connect with many people before you find strong networking partners.
  • Say thank you. Online networks may seem less personal, but good manners are still important. Be sure to send a thank-you message to contacts who help you.
  • Be ready to contact a reference. When someone in your online professional network gives you a lead, you might need to send a reference right away.

Use email to network

It’s easy to use email to reach your friends, relatives, and other people you know. It’s okay to email potential employers or contacts in your industry or occupation, as long as their email addresses are public or posted on a discussion group or website. Here’s how:

  • Do some research. Visit the organization’s website to find out about the person and the organization.
  • In your first email contact, explain how you found the person and what you have in common.
  • Be specific about your reason for contacting the person. Are you asking for an information interview? Advice about your job?
  • Make sure the subject line of your email shows that your message isn’t junk mail: 
    • Avoid asking questions in your subject line
    • Don’t use exclamation marks or all capital letters
    • Be brief: Try to keep the subject line under 50 characters
  • Use your personal email account for your job search. It’s not a good idea to use your work email to search for new work. If you do not have a personal email account already, many email services provide free email accounts.

Use social networking sites

Although site like Facebook and Twitter were not created for business, they can be a good way to stay in touch with your networks and search for work. Use these tips to get the most from your social networking sites:

  • Invite only people you know and trust into your network.
  • Make sure your posts show you in a positive way. Even if you don’t use a social networking site to look for work, potential employers may visit your profile.
  • If you’re not employed, tell your contacts you’re looking for work. Tell them about your skills and accomplishments.
  • Be a resource for the people in your network. Tell your contacts about jobs or events that will interest them.
  • Join groups on the site that are related to the work you want.

Read more about the best ways to use social media in your work search.

Use professional networking sites

Professional networking websites such as LinkedIn are similar to social networking sites, but the focus is on business. You create a profile on the site that works like a digital resumé.

When you invite your contacts to join the service or connect with you, you can connect with their contacts as well. These sites are especially useful if you’re looking for a professional or management job.

To look for work using a professional networking website, try these tips:

  • Include information on your profile that will help you connect widely—for example, with past employers and the university or college you went to.
  • Allow your profile to be widely accessed.
  • Search for friends, colleagues, classmates, and other contacts who are also on the site.
  • Ask your contacts to introduce you to their contacts. That way, you meet other professionals through someone you know.
  • Many site have services that make you more visible and increase your connections. For example, join question-and-answer groups or post a blog. And use apps that allow you to check job postings against your network. These will show you if you have any contacts in companies posting jobs.
  • Use features of the site that support your work search. These can include posting a resumé or tagging your skills using keywords.

Even though it’s virtual, a professional networking site is still a community. Invite only the people you know and trust into your network.

Follow blogs and online communities

Many people use blogs, forums, social media sites, news groups, or discussion groups to share information, ideas, and opinions. When connected to businesses, careers, or your work search, these tools can be useful for networking.

To follow online communities, use these tips:

  • Get a feel for the blog or group and what others are saying before you say anything.
  • Check the group’s frequently asked questions (FAQ) page or get in touch with the online moderator to make sure you understand the group’s online rules.
  • Always be courteous in your postings.
  • Stay on topic.

Networking is an essential part of work search. Whether you’re networking online or off, it’s always important to be professional. Remember that networking works best when you give, as well as receive. Offer advice, information and connections to the people in your network and they’ll do the same for you.

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