There is no denying the importance of professional networking in building a successful career. Roughly 28% of professionals have found or been referred to a new role through a network connection, which makes it an important stepping stone for new and inexperienced professionals.
Lea Jones is a former pharmaceutical sales professional with 23 years of experience and knows all about the challenges of networking. As an active member of her community, volunteering for charity and her local church in Orlando, Florida, Lea Jones outlines how she expanded her network, showcasing how it can benefit you and your career, as well as how to start implementing it today.
What is Professional Networking?
Lea Jones defines professional networking as establishing and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with the people you meet. It isn’t merely an exchange of information with others and it is certainly not about soliciting favors; it is about fostering relationships with like-minded people.
Done correctly, professional networking will not feel laborious or exhaustive. Additionally, Lea Jones explains that it is never too late, or too early, to invest in building your network. The worst networking mistake you can make is not going out there and trying. As outlined below, networking can grow your knowledge, enhance your interpersonal skills, connect you with new prospects, and provide mentorship and guidance.
The phrase, “two heads are better than one” is a trope that applies directly to professional networking. Lea Jones explains that success in any career can be largely attributed to the pool of information or knowledge you have gathered. However—regardless of what industry you are in—there will always be things you do not know; whether it is insider industry knowledge or skills learned through experience, your network can aid in your growth and development. This is one of the ways that networking can play an important role in your career success. When you have established networks with other industry professionals, it fosters an exchange of ideas and knowledge.
If you have just started building your network, putting yourself out there can be an excellent way to enhance your interpersonal skills. While digital communication has become ubiquitous in the developed world, phone calls and in-person meetings are still the best way to connect with others. Communicating effectively with colleagues, peers, or leaders in your industry is a fundamental component to building a successful career. Every meeting is an opportunity to further develop these skills, and professional networking is the crash course.
Of course, the most important aspect of professional networking is in its ability to become an avenue for new opportunities. The more people you connect with, the greater your opportunities for connection become. Statistics show that networking is one of the most effective ways to get a new job. Most people are more likely to take a meeting with someone recommended to them by someone they know than through a complete stranger.
Lastly, professional networking provides an opportunity for mentorship and guidance. Everybody has passed through hurdles in their career development, and being able to connect with someone who has been there, done that provides you with a clear path forward. These individuals can help you manage any major challenges effectively by either giving you advice or by linking you to the right contact. This type of mentorship is priceless, and often falls between networking and friendship.
Final Thoughts from Lea Jones
Professional networking can be overwhelming, especially for young professionals starting their career. With years of experience, she suggests taking all of the pressure off of yourself by engaging new individuals based on their experience, and not your own. Ask them about what they’re doing, how they got to where they are, and try to find common ground.
While some might consider networking to be about ‘selling yourself’, Lea Jones suggests that it might be time to change your approach. Professional networks are just friendships, relationships, and acquaintances, so it is extremely important to be yourself. Whether you are connecting with people through Linked In, emails, or meetings, make sure you are actively putting yourself out there.