Networking is, without question, the single most important undertaking for creating opportunities. You will rarely find an individual who became successful in their careers without the assistance of others. That assistance was likely not random or serendipitous. It was thanks to the relationship that the individual formed (or someone close to the individual – such as a family member or friend – forged) with that individual.
The benefits provided by those in your network are not always obvious. Examples of ways that those in our network aid us in our careers include:
- Interest Generation/Motivation – We may be influenced by the interests or careers of others. Those around us are often our biggest cheerleaders and critics. We may strive to impress them, prove them wrong, or appease them in their desires. That is, having these people in our lives peaks our interest in a particular career field. Even if these individuals are not personally involved in a career path, their affinity for a career field or path may create interest for us. All of these things can be the driving force that motivates us in our careers. For example, I frequently meet parents who influence their children by telling them they could be super successful and wealthy by becoming a doctor.
- Direct Assistance – Sometimes our connections take actions with the specific purpose of moving us forward in a career direction. They may provide support by helping with education or nepotism in hiring. That is certainly a positive if we desire to move in that direction. If that direction does not pique our interest at a given time, it can seem more like a burden than assistance. Though, it is rarely the case that any level of professional experience or opportunity is a bad thing – even if it is not the path you want to follow indefinitely.
- Note: I see this scenario quite often with helicopter parents who do everything for their children – from applying to school, checking their homework, proofing their papers or assignments (which is actually cheating), to active involvement in their classes. While there is a great deal of debate as to whether these parents are doing more harm than good for their children – it is undeniable that they are influencing the future career path of the children.
- Connections/Referrals – Our network is often responsible for introducing us to others or opportunities that create a career opportunity. Anywhere from 40-60% of individuals are hired based upon a referral from a member of their network. For this reason, doing everything possible to increase your network (networking) is essential to creating opportunities.
- Note: For this reason, those who come from backgrounds with large networks are generally presented with or able to create far more opportunities than those who are less fortunate.
- Opportunity Awareness – You may have heard the adage, “99% of success is showing up”. What this refrain seeks to present is, we must be present to recognize opportunities before we can work to exploit them. It would make it much easier when we had individuals actively identifying opportunities on our behalf. Often, it is through those around us that we learn about potential opportunities. Even if those individuals have no ability to refer us to an opportunity or connect us with influencers, simply making us aware of the opportunity is a major benefit.
- Note: This benefit is generally only possible if the members of our network understand our qualifications, our aspirations, and the types of opportunity for which we are searching.
How to Network
There is not simple guidebook on how to network. It involves concerted effort to meet (and potentially form a professional relationship) with others. Some might say that it involves meeting people in an intended career field. In reality, individuals outside of your chosen carer field or industry can provide many of the benefits discussed above. For example, meeting someone at a company can help in gaining employment or an internship with that company – even if the individual does not work in your chosen career field.
- Note: View our article, One-on-One Networking to learn a step-by-step approach to effectively networking with individuals you meet.
With that being said, here are some common methods to network with others:
- Networking Groups – If you do a diligent search, you will likely find some of these groups in your town. These individuals meet together with the entire purpose of creating career and professional opportunities for members. Unfortunately, their focus is not on finding employment. They generally seek to generate business opportunities within your current career field – such as business/client referrals.
- Employment/Internships – The individuals in your current job (if applicable) or internship are (or should be) your connections. If they have your best interest in mind, they can be a great benefit to you in the future by providing a job reference or introducing you to others.
- Professional Groups – There are many professional groups out there. They seek to provide information, education, and opportunities – such as jobs, careers, or industries. The most well-known of such organizational local Chambers of Commerce. Largely towns/cities may have all forms of professional interest groups.
- Status/Affiliation Groups – These are groups that allow you membership or affiliation based upon your status. These generally include religion, racial minority status, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, and veteran groups.
- Social/Interest Groups – Joining social groups or clubs can be a great way to meet influential people. This might include groups concerning: community involvement/service, sports, or hobbies.
Business School and Networking
Business school is designed to provide far more than education. They also seek to create career-ready students and to facilitate their career search. Part of that effort is to provide students with networking opportunities.
The most notable manners through which business schools provide access to a network include:
- Student/Alumni relations – There is somewhat of a social contract among alumni and their alma maters. There is the expectation that they continue to serve the institution after graduation. This generally includes making donations to school programs and assisting current students in numerous ways. Student assistance generally takes the form of professional mentoring, career guidance, and intern/employee recruiting. Alumni who are employees in companies can often create employment opportunities for students by referral for internships or interviews.
- Company Information/Networking Events – Schools frequently offer company information and networking sessions. At these events, representatives from companies come to the school with the specific purpose of meeting students interested in employment. They provide information (such as company operations, structure, and available positions) and a pathway to applying to the company.
Of course, the event to which business programs can offer these benefits varies with the level of resources and connections that the school possesses. Small schools that graduate very few students cannot provide a large alumni base. Schools without extensive industry connections cannot host extensive company networking events.
- Note: It may surprise you to know that this aspect of a business school is far more important than the quality of classroom instruction when it comes to creating opportunities. Of course, it should not surprise you to know that the business programs with the highest academic prowess generally offer exceptional networking opportunities.