One piece of essential kit when you are networking is the business card. You
will find it strangely comforting to have a prop with you – as everyone feels a
little self-conscious when speaking to new people. It is also that vital piece
of card that will help you to share your details with someone with whom you
want to connect.

But, to make the most of this wonderful piece of card, you
a) need to feel comfortable to network, and b) you need to know how to network
well.  Here we offer you a guide through
the purpose of networking and why networking is important.

What is networking?

There is no denying that a strong professional network can
skyrocket your career to the next level. 
If done well, you can find the contacts you will need to progress a
business idea, gain the necessary funding or land your next position.

Networking is not about exchanging information with other
people and nor is it a time when you beg favours.  You are there to establish and then nurture
relationships, which may or may not become mutually beneficial in the
future. 

You can network anywhere. 
You can talk to someone while waiting in the coffee queue or after a
sporting event.  You might be attending a
work conference or a round table event of likeminded people. 

Part of the skill of networking effectively is seeing
opportunities when they arise.  The other
ability you need is picking events wisely. 
You do not have to be seen at every event either.  Your eye should focus in on those events that
will maximise opportunities.

Why is networking critical to your success?

The
more connected you are, the more successful you will be
.  The time you invest in your professional
relationships will return dividends for your career and your sense of achievement.  Not only will they be able to offer you opportunities,
but there will be a chance to improve your skills and learn about the latest
trends.  With the right networking, you
could meet your future mentors, business partners and clients. 

In short, networking is essential for career
development.  Ideally, you would hope
your organisation would offer you opportunities for onward progression.  However, this is not always possible – and
the likelihood of a job for life in our modern workplace is remote. The burden
falls on you to make the most of your personal career development by attending
events and meetups, seeking out your next career move.

How to become an effective networker

So, even though you might dread the thought of networking,
there is no denying its importance to your career.  If you must do it – how
can you do it effectively
?

First, you need to decide what networking style matches your
style.  Not all people are the same, and
for introverts, your approach will be different from those who are more
outgoing.  For instance, someone who is
shy might fare better networking over a coffee in a one-to-one
conversation.  The big networking event
might involve hundreds of people and intimidate you.  Alternatively, if you tend to overwhelm
individuals, you might be better in a large group setting where you can spread
yourself over a few people rather than just one.

Next, look for opportunities to network in all sorts of
places.  You don’t have to go to your
company cocktail party.  You could,
instead, go to your university reunions, where people from different backgrounds
and careers will congregate.  Try out a
meetup walking group, where you will be surprised at the professionals you meet
looking for casual conversation.  It is
these informal moments that often spark the best opportunities.

Ultimately, you need to plan and remember to follow up.  You cannot hope to “by chance” meet people
who could progress your career.  Do your
research and make strategic decisions about how best to use your time.  Then, once you have been to the meeting, you
have received and handed out business cards, remember to make the call. If you
invested time speaking to someone and there were a genuine connection and
possibility for future interaction, then send them a message.  Make sure your follow up is personalised and
reflects the time you took to get to know this person a little bit.  You are in the process of building
rapport.  You don’t want them to feel
that you send out the same message to all the names on cards you received. Help
them feel singled out.

Remember to give as well as take.  You should use the concept of pay forward.  It may be that you are the giver of
opportunities before you receive any yourself. 
When you are part of a network of people, you will find that your
reputation will soon build.  Soon people
will want to offer your opportunities too.