By definition, professional networking is the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions. Specifically, it’s the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
To most, the prospect of professional networking seems daunting and foreign. Communicating with strangers is not natural and can feel awkward. The reality is that people make the world go ’round, and knowing people in the right places can help you immensely. Having the confidence and ability to put yourself out there and communicate shows that you are proactive and (hopefully) professional. The bottom line is that people you meet may someday hold a position in which you need their expertise. Conversely, you may be able to help them. (Read: 4 Communication Errors to Avoid During Interviews)
Case in point: Someone I may help find a position within a company may come back later and hire me if I get into a formidable spot or desire a change. It is no different than knowing a military leader at the Pentagon who could make the phone call which ends up moving you there for your next military assignment. I am a firm believer that successful careers are about relationships and treating people properly. Over time you may come to enjoy networking — particularly if you start to see how much you can learn about the variants of people in this world and their respective impacts.
Joe Sweeny’s book “Networking is a Contact Sport” does an excellent job of outlining the concepts of relationship-building to enhance your career. The book sketches the fundamentals of connecting with one another; everything from how to be confident when you enter a room to how to relate to varying personality types. Sweeny highlights what he calls a 5/10/15 system that assists you in making networking part of your day-to-day ritual so business will continue to stream your way. The key to this is that one must be ready and willing to also pay it forward without really asking for something in immediate return.
The five big professional networking takeaways I recommend to any service member are the following:
- Browse TED Talks or other news platforms to have topics to discuss in open networking forums. If you find yourself at a lull in conversation, having stories in your back pocket will keep you conversing.
- Keep in contact with those you meet on your travels or previous assignments. Military or civilian. You never know when you may be of mutual benefit to each other. Encourage yourself to keep in contact with those who made the most poignant impact on you. You don’t need to go as far as me by keeping in contact with people you meet on airplanes (however, you never know how that will work out), but consciously trying to network in new environments will aid in your success and make you more comfortable.
- Have humble confidence. Being proud of who you are and being knowledgeable in what you bring to the table doesn’t have to come across as pompous or arrogant. Being a subject matter expert who is still genuine resonates much more deeply.
- Utilize top social media platforms like LinkedIn or facebook (if you keep it professional) to stay in contact with those you wish to keep in your network. LinkedIn is one of the simplest and most effective tools you can find to keep up to date or send messages. This is your electronic business card.
- Learn how to listen. Part of networking is being able to take information just as much as you receive it. People will go the extra mile for those who may take an interest in them as well. Networking is a two-way street, and asking questions about that individual, their respective careers or their families can truly go a long way.
These five networking tips should help you understand the importance of networking!
READ NEXT: 5 Biggest Networking Mistakes to Avoid
*This page contains affiliate links.