Top Tips for Effective Networking

See also: Employability Skills

Many people dread the whole idea of ‘networking’. They see it as being pushy or demanding, and also worry about how other people will perceive them if they do it. However, it doesn’t have to be like this.

Networking, as our page on Networking Skills makes clear, is the process of building and maintaining a network of contacts and relationships.

The purpose of networking is to ensure that you have a suitable group of contacts to draw on when you need help and support—whether to find a new job, gather information, or simply to talk through a problem. Your network too, will be able to draw on you at times of need. This page provides some tips on how to build and maintain your network effectively.

1. Put time into your existing work and social relationships

The best way to build a network is to start by putting time into your existing relationships, both at work and beyond.

Make contact with people you haven’t seen or spoken to for a while. It is particularly good to do this if you notice via social media that they have recently changed jobs, or published or shared something interesting. However, you can do it at any time. Social media makes it particularly easy to reach out to people without sounding ‘creepy’: you can just say ‘I saw your name and realised that we hadn’t been in touch for ages. How’s everything going?’.

2. Be deliberate about building your network

We all have networks—but some of them are more effective than others.

Effective networks don’t just happen. You have to put work into developing a network that works for you, and that means making deliberate choices about who to involve.

Three areas to consider

In their book The Squiggly Career, Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis suggest that you should consider three areas when networking:

  • Your current role;
  • Your future career plans; and
  • Your personal development.

They suggest that you should have people in your network who will help you develop in each of those three areas.

In other words, be discriminating about which relationships you nurture and support within your network.

Don’t discard people because you think they won’t be useful to you.

Instead, do build a network that contains people you like, and enjoy spending time with, and who enjoy spending time with you—because those are the easiest and most pleasant relationships to nurture. These are also the people who are most likely to help you when you need it. However, also engage with those who challenge your views and opinions, and make you think.

Crucially, don’t build yourself an ‘echo chamber’: you want a diverse network that will help you to expand your ideas, not contract them.

3. Use social media

Social media is an easy way to both stay in touch with your existing contacts, and to make contact with new people.

Most people think of LinkedIn when it comes to networking—and it is certainly one of the most popular business networking tools. If you have not already got an account, it is worth setting one up. LinkedIn allows you to make contact with people you know, or their contacts, for free, and also to see their activity.

See our page on Using LinkedIn Effectively for more about this. There is also more about using LinkedIn to network in our page on Networking for Freelancers and Homeworkers.

You can also use Twitter for very effective networking.

Twitter is a completely open platform so you can tweet to anyone and see what anyone else has tweeted. Identify people that you want to know and start to follow them and engage with their tweets (retweet, reply and comment). They are likely to reply and hopefully engage with you too—and this can be used as the foundation for a relationship. If they are in your industry, you have a reasonable chance of seeing them at events and, if so, could suggest a face-to-face meeting.

4. Keep your online presence up to date

If you reach out to a new contact, especially via social media, the first thing that they are going to do is look at your profile. If that isn’t very helpful, they will probably Google you.

Make sure that your online presence (your ‘digital footprint’) is up-to-date.

For example, your ‘professional’ social media pages (that is, LinkedIn and Twitter) should show your current employer, not the last-but-three. Your account should also show some recent signs of activity, preferably in your professional area. If you haven’t used your account for a while, it may be worth waiting a few weeks before you reach out to someone new. In that time, do a bit of proactive tweeting and sharing, just to boost your account activity. It is particularly helpful if this activity is relevant to the reason that you are planning to contact that person.

While you’re thinking about it, take time to do a quick check and see if there is anything off-putting in your online presence. If there is, remove it. For more about this, see our page on Managing Your Online Presence.

5. Keep it casual, and just have a conversation

Networking is all about personal relationships.

You build and maintain relationships through conversations, whether in person, online, or by phone. These conversations build connections between you. The best way to think about networking is just as a series of conversations.

It follows, therefore, that when you go to an event, you should not be looking to ‘meet useful people’, or ‘find a job’, but simply ‘start some new conversations’.

Whether you are meeting someone new, or talking to an existing contact, this is a good rule of thumb: don’t monopolise the conversation.

A conversation is a two-way process: you should both listen and talk. You want to find out about the other person, but they also want to find out about you. Ask questions and listen to the answers with interest—then build on them with your response. If you join a conversation, respond to points that have been made.

If you think you have listened more than you have talked, but the conversation seemed to flow, then you probably have the balance about right.

Another useful rule of thumb is to smile because smiling helps to build rapport.

For more about this process, read our page on Building Rapport.

6. Follow up new contacts straight away

If you meet someone new at an event or meet-up, it is a good idea to follow up the contact straight away—that is, as soon as you get back to work.

Just send a quick email saying how nice it was to meet them. You might even suggest following up with a coffee or lunch sometime to discuss [whatever it was that you both found interesting]—after all, relationships need a bit of help to get going.

In the few weeks after your initial contact, make contact again by, for example, sending them something that will be useful to them: a link to an article you discussed, or some ideas that you think might interest them. If they mentioned a problem that they were trying to solve, you might send something that you think would help.

If you get this right, this will help to cement the relationship—and hopefully they will reciprocate.

7. Proactively share information that you think would be useful to others

One very good way to maintain your network is to proactively share useful information.

This might include, for example, jobs that look suitable for a particular person, or information about their industry, or even just an article that you found interesting and think they might like too. This gives you an excuse to be in touch with people—but also reminds them of the points of interest you share and makes you useful to them. This, in turn, makes it easier to ask them for help when you need it.

You can do this direct with someone via email, or you can do it more informally via social media.

You can share things with your whole network, but you can also tag specific people who you think would be interested. You will often get a good idea of whether you were right by who responds to your posts—and can then share more with them specifically.

8. Use online tools and alerts

It is a good idea to stay alert to what is going on in the lives of your network. This is especially true for higher profile people and when you are trying to build relationships.

One way to do this is to use online alerts and tools to tell you when they or their organisation is mentioned in news articles or on social media.

You can then stay abreast of developments in their industry or organisation. Even if you don’t comment directly, it will give you something to discuss when you do meet—and more context about their social media activity.

9. When you do ask for something, don’t ask for too much

Your purpose in networking may be to get a job, but you should never make that explicit upfront.

By all means send your CV—but ask for advice on how to improve it for the sector or industry, NOT for someone to look at it and give you a job.

The key to using your network is to ask for something that people will be prepared to give, for example:

“I’m trying to change careers and move into your sector. I would appreciate your advice about what experience I might need to do that. Would it be possible to speak on the phone or in person about this?”
“I’m planning to apply for a job at [company name] and I know you worked there for a while. Would it be possible to meet up to talk about the company, and get your insights?”

This way, you are not asking for too much. You can start to build a relationship, and you never know where it will take you.

10. Take a friend along with you

There is no rule that says that you have to go to events on your own.

Take a colleague or friend along and you can join conversations together. You also won’t look so desperate if you don’t find anyone else to talk to straight away, and can spend a bit of time just looking at who is there and thinking about who you want to meet.

This can be particularly helpful if you find it hard to make conversation or meet new people. If so, you might also find it useful to read our post on Overcoming a Fear of Networking.

Top Tip! At events, find the ‘odd one out’

If you go alone to an event, it’s a good idea to look for others who are standing on their own, or join a group of three rather than a pair. This will allow you to strike up a conversation with an individual in a more natural way—and it’s easier than trying to break into a bigger group or interrupt two people talking.

11. Have an ‘elevator pitch’

Prepare a brief introduction to yourself and your organisation: your ‘elevator pitch’.

This should be just a couple of sentences, but it should explain who you are, and what you do. This is useful when you meet people face-to-face, but you can also use it in emails introducing yourself to someone. It might also be similar to your Twitter bio, or your headline on LinkedIn.

And Finally…

12. Always say thank you

When you have reached out to someone in your network, and obtained useful information, or even just met for a drink, it is a good idea to follow up and say thank you. Similarly, if anyone bothers to send you something that they think would interest you, reply, and thank them for it.

Everyone likes to be appreciated.

There are more useful tips on effective networking in our posts on The Secrets to Effective Networking and Networking Tips for Post-Grads.