How professional networking can help your career

How professional networking can help your career
SEEK content teamupdated on 07 February, 2024

“Networking” may seem like a corporate buzzword, but it’s actually a handy tool for anyone with career growth in mind. For fresh graduates especially, networking can be a great way to break into an industry or pave the way for a job in a top-tier company.

So what is industry networking? Professional networking involves building and nurturing relationships with peers, mentors and industry leaders. You use these relationships to share information, advice and support. Networking with people in your field can help your career development and open doors to unexpected job opportunities and collaborations. 

Discover what professional networking is and the important role it plays in career advancement. In this article, we explore practical strategies and real-world examples to guide you in building a professional network relevant to your long-term plans.

What is professional networking?

Professional networking is the forming of connections with others in your industry. These connections go beyond simply exchanging business cards or online profiles. They are about building meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships that can provide support, advice and opportunities.

Professional networking involves maintaining these relationships with friends, fellow graduates, colleagues, industry experts and other professionals. 

The difference between professional and industry networking

Professional networking occurs within any business context, while industry networking is more specific. It refers to building connections within a particular sector or field of work. 

For example, a software developer might engage in professional networking by connecting with people from various fields, but engage in industry networking when they connect specifically with other tech professionals. Industry networking often focuses on industry-specific trends, challenges and opportunities. It's a useful tool for staying relevant and up to date with changes in your field.

The role of networking in today’s career landscape

Networking has become more important than ever, especially when it comes to:

  • building a support system, 
  • gaining insights into industry trends, 
  • learning new skills, and 
  • staying up to date and relevant. 

Networking can lead to mentorship opportunities, new jobs, collaborations and professional relationships that can advance your career. A strong professional network can be the key to not only launching your career as a graduate, but enjoying success in the long term.

Benefits of industry networking

By connecting with others in your chosen field, you open doors to plenty of opportunities and benefits that can advance your career.

How networking can enhance career opportunities

With a well-established network, you can be the first to hear about job openings and learn about new roles, companies and industry shifts. This insider information can help you get ahead in a competitive job market.

Networking’s impact on knowledge sharing and industry insight

Networking within your industry involves exchanging ideas, experiences and knowledge. By engaging with peers and mentors, you can gain insider insights and stay ahead of industry changes. This continuous learning can help you make more informed decisions and make you a valuable, clued-in employee. By sharing your knowledge and insights as well, you can establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry, boosting your professional reputation even more.

Building a support system through professional contacts

Beyond advancing your career and keeping you in touch with trends, industry networking helps build a support system. Professional relationships can evolve to offer emotional and moral support, which is invaluable if you ever experience setbacks. As you head into the workforce, you’ll appreciate having a network of professionals who understand your industry’s unique challenges and can offer advice, encouragement or a listening ear. 

Types of professional networks

There are different types of professional networks, each one offering unique advantages and features. 

Formal vs. informal networking groups

Professional networks can be broadly categorised into formal and informal groups. Formal networking groups – such as industry associations or business clubs – are structured, with scheduled meetings, membership fees and set goals. For example, city Chambers of Commerce offer formal settings for business representatives to connect, share resources and collaborate on community projects.

Informal networking groups are more relaxed and may include casual meetups, alumni groups or interest-based gatherings. For example, a group of marketing professionals might meet up each month at an afterwork event, to discuss industry trends and share experiences and business leads.

Online and offline networking platforms

Online networking platforms have become increasingly popular for business. Social media today is one of the best professional networking examples, offering a space for professionals to connect, share content and discover job opportunities. Offline networking is no less important. Conferences, workshops and industry events provide opportunities for face-to-face interactions and personal connections.

Industry-specific networks and their unique features

Industry-specific networks cater to professionals within a particular sector. They offer tailored resources, news and networking opportunities. For instance, the Australian Society of Certified Practising Accountants provides professionals with access to industry publications, educational resources and networking events. These networks often host conferences and seminars, offering platforms for members to present research, discuss industry challenges and collaborate on projects.

Strategies for effective networking

Effective networking comes down to building meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. When you’re just starting out, your strategies for effective networking could be the key to landing your first “real” job.

Best practices for initiating and maintaining professional relationships

While professional relationships often happen organically once you start working, if you haven’t yet entered the workforce, you need a strategy to start building your network. Begin by finding people whose career paths or expertise align with your professional goals. 

When reaching out, personalise your message and express genuine interest in their work. After the initial contact, it's crucial to maintain the relationship. This can be done by regularly sharing relevant information, offering assistance or simply checking in. Your university or college should have resources for industry networking if you’re not sure where to start.

Tips for networking at events and conferences

Trade and industry events and conferences are great networking opportunities. Research important events in your line of work and make a note of the attendees and speakers you want to connect with. Focus on listening and learning about the other person. Follow up after the event with a personalised message, as this is where the real networking happens.

Using social media and online platforms for networking

Social media and online platforms are powerful tools for networking. Keep your profile updated with your professional interests and achievements. Engage with content relevant to your industry by commenting, sharing and posting your insights. Joining industry-specific groups or forums can also be beneficial. 

Networking etiquette and communication

When it comes to professional networking, a little etiquette and professional communication go a long way in building meaningful relationships. 

  • Be genuine in your interactions and show a real interest in the people you meet. 
  • Follow up after initial meetings with a personalised message. 
  • Offer help or support where you can, as networking is a two-way street.
  • Active listening is important; show that you are engaged and interested in what others have to say.

On the flip side:

  • Avoid seeing people as stepping stones to your next career move. 
  • Don’t dominate conversations or focus solely on yourself. 
  • Don’t forget to respect people’s time and boundaries, especially in professional settings.
  • Networking small-talk doesn’t need to be limited to work topics – you might find conversation flows more easily if you can connect over sports, hobbies or personal interests.

You want to make a good impression on your network by maintaining a professional image. Be consistently respectful and polite, whether online or in person, and show a genuine interest in other people and what they’re involved in. 

Ensure your social media profiles, especially on professional networks, are up to date and reflect your professional interests and achievements. In face-to-face interactions, be mindful of your body language and clothing, as they contribute to the first impressions you make.

Overcoming networking challenges

For introverts or those new to networking, the key is to start small and build confidence gradually. Begin by attending smaller, more casual events, where it’s easier to have one-on-one conversations. Online networking can also be a great starting point. Remember, quality trumps quantity in networking; focus on making meaningful connections rather than trying to meet as many people as possible.

Not every networking interaction will lead to a connection, and that’s okay. It’s just important that you are actively attending events, whether or not they result in ‘valuable’ contacts. Showing up and meeting people, with no expectations, is a good attitude to have. 

If you’re trying to break into an industry where there aren’t many networking opportunities, it's important to make the most of each meeting you do have. This means being prepared, having clear objectives and being proactive in following up. 

You can also make use of online platforms to maintain and strengthen connections. Engage with your contacts by sharing interesting articles, congratulating them on their achievements, or simply checking in. Remember, networking is not just about gaining new contacts, it’s also about nurturing existing relationships.

Using your networking for career growth

Your professional network can be a powerful tool in your job search and career progression. To use your connections effectively, be clear and specific about what you’re looking for, whether that’s job leads, referrals or advice on career moves. Networking is a two-way street, so also be ready to offer help or support in return. 

Networking can open doors to mentorship opportunities, which are invaluable for professional growth and learning. Look for someone whose career path or achievements align with your aspirations. Approach them with respect and a clear idea of what you hope to gain from the mentorship. 

Building a diverse and inclusive network

Diversity in your professional network brings different viewpoints, skills and experiences. This variety can lead to more creative solutions to problems, exposure to different ways of thinking and more. It prepares you for a wider range of professional scenarios and enhances your ability to communicate and interact in different settings. It can open doors to new markets, industries and career opportunities that you might not have considered or had access to otherwise. 

Strategies for cultivating an inclusive networking circle

To build a diverse and inclusive network, actively seek out networking opportunities with people from outside your usual circle. Attend events and join organisations that cater to a diverse membership. When networking, be open-minded and inclusive in your approach. 

Inclusivity also means being mindful of and challenging your own biases, ensuring that your networking efforts are genuinely open to all. By embracing diversity in your networking efforts, you position yourself to be a more effective, adaptable and well-rounded professional.

Nurturing and expanding your network

Building a professional network is just the beginning. A well-maintained network can be a channel of never-ending opportunities, advice and support throughout your career. To grow your network sustainably, focus on both depth and breadth. Depth involves deepening existing relationships, while breadth is about expanding your network to include new contacts. 

Attend industry events, join professional associations and participate in online forums to meet new people. At the same time, invest in your current relationships by offering help, sharing information or simply catching up. Keeping in touch with your network shouldn’t feel like a chore. Aim to have regular, genuine interactions with your connections. Send a brief email to check in, share some news you think they might find interesting or comment on their professional social media posts. 

Giving back is also important in networking. It’s about creating a relationship where both parties benefit. Always look for ways to help your contacts, whether that’s by providing referrals, offering your expertise or supporting their projects. Paying it forward is always a good thing to do. 

Future trends in professional networking

As we look towards the future, professional networking continues to evolve, influenced by societal shifts and technological advancements. One significant trend is the increasing emphasis on meaningful connections. Professionals are moving away from quantity-focused networking to building deeper, more genuine relationships. 

There’s also a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusivity in professional networks. Another trend is the rise of niche networking groups and platforms that cater to specific industries or interests, allowing for more targeted and relevant connections.

Technology continues to revolutionise how we network. Tools like AI-powered networking platforms are emerging, which can suggest potential connections based on your career goals and interests. Social media platforms are constantly evolving, offering new ways to connect and engage with professional contacts. 

Networking requires consistent effort and a genuine interest in nurturing professional relationships. The benefits of networking extend far beyond immediate career opportunities. They include mentorship, learning and ongoing personal growth. Some networking contacts may even develop into real friendships. 

It’s a good idea to include networking in your regular professional activities, making it a natural and ongoing part of your career development. The connections you make and nurture today can lead to opportunities and collaborations in the future. In a job landscape that may feel uncertain at times, your network can be a source of support and stability.

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