Networking is scary. It means approaching strangers and striking up a conversation in hopes of developing a mutually beneficial relationship. If you’re an introvert or shy, that might feel like a circle of hell. Yet networking isn’t just vital to your career development. It’s a skill you’ll likely come to love once it is honed.
There are many ways to network. It can happen at an industry event or a small gathering of like minded professionals inside a neighborhood tavern. It can mean finally reaching out to a long dormant alumni friendship or attending a function at your alma mater. Maybe you’re a paid up member of a service organization or part of a religious community. Networking is facilitated by sites like Meetup and Eventbrite. You can even network through LinkedIn –– forging a bond thanks to a well-crafted email. Still, when most people think of networking they think of external networking. Yet there’s another kind and if you’re not doing it, you could be missing out on some serious opportunities. If you’re curious about the importance of networking in the workplace, here’s why I think it’s vital along with tips to make it happen.
You Have an Inside Track
Less than ten percent of applicants are employee referrals. Yet they comprise 40% of all hires. Think about that. If you’re considering a career change, you can’t discount the importance of networking in the workplace. You can learn about new jobs sooner than you would if you weren’t working –– which is a good reason for keeping your new position until you land a new one. Here are some ideas that can help.
Make New Work Friends
It’s easy to fall into a routine. As we ascend the elevator, we stare at our phone or the blank wall or the backs of people’s heads. We only get coffee with the same trio of chums. I’m suggesting you start saying “hello” in hallways and elevators. Make solo coffee runs and pay attention to the other customers. When you find people who work at your company, strike up a conversation. Talk about your work, sure, but try to learn about them as people –– their hobbies, they’re families. Making new friends can lead to information — if their department is hiring or if a friend’s company is expanding.
I know of several folks who found extraordinary networking success by joining their company’s softball team. If you aren’t particularly athletic or inclined to the sport, this can be an intimidating suggestion. Trust me, many of the people on softball teams are neither athletic nor into softball. It’s just few other activities allow you to casually interact with bosses from other departments. And in many cases, there’s beer and pizza afterwards. If you can manage a bit of sport, this can be a super helpful networking opportunity.
Be a Shadow
If you’re considering a career change, see if your company offers the chance to shadow an employee from a different department. Although originally geared toward college students or job candidates, some businesses are also offering it to employees –– partly to retain talented pros just like you. You may also be able to arrange a similar, but informal, situation from one of the people in your expanding network. When you shadow, learn not just about the work and the opportunities available but see if you can find information about other companies as well. It’s likely that the person you’re shadowing has their own network that can help you in your quest.
Networking During a Pandemic
Networking has become more challenging with so many of us working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The serendipitous meetings we once enjoyed have all but disappeared. Seeing someone on your laptop screen isn’t the same as bumping into them at a local lunch line. It takes a bit of effort but you can network remotely. If your company has video meetings that include team members from multiple departments, pay attention to the ones from your area of interest. Do the same with bosses you haven’t spoken to. Then, after the meeting, shoot them an email noting their contributions to the meeting. Briefly mention your interests and ask if they have time to discuss with you their work at the company and your goals.
Remember, around 85% of jobs are filled through personal contacts. So if you want to move up in your company there’s a ready-made way to get a jump on the competition –– but only if you network.
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