Written by Wiam Ben Karroum
We have all heard it over and over again, either from a professor, a career counsellor, or a friend, networking should be a key part of our career.
We often confuse networking with selling or bragging - and it is certainly not about begging for favours. Networking is actually about building authentic relationships and a solid reputation over time. It is establishing and nurturing long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial with the people we cross paths with, whether you are waiting to order coffee, volunteering, or attending a conference. Networking is about sharing, not taking. It is about forming trust and helping one another work towards similar or different goals.
Our network includes everyone from family to coworkers or even a friend of a friend. By utilizing our network, we can witness first-hand the magic of networking. It can be used as an excellent source of new perspectives and ideas that can benefit us in our career advancement and personal life. It instills in us better practices that advance our career and facilitates our job hunt. In fact, strong networking channels can serve as catalysts for successful careers.
Studies have shown that up to 80% of jobs are never advertised; they are filled through word of mouth. By expanding our network, we can open doors to new opportunities for business, career advancement and personal growth. This helps us be visible and increases the likelihood of us meeting the right people at the right time. New things almost always come from outside our inner circle. As such, it is all about leveraging “the strength of our weak ties” as the sociology professor, Mark Granovetter, stated in his paper about the unique value of people we do not know well.
The Weak Ties Theory
The weak ties theory is the proposition that acquaintances are likely to be more influential than close friends, particularly in social networks. According to Granovetter, relationships are different. Some are weak and some strong, and the strength of a tie depends on time and experience. Weak ties are typically acquaintances or simply people that we are connected to but we don’t know well. In the book The Defining Decade, the author and clinical psychologist, Meg Jay, described weak ties as bridges we cannot see all the way across, so there is no certainty where they might lead. With fewer overlapping contacts, information and opportunity spread faster and further through weak ties because they know things and people we are not connected to.
True interconnectedness and networking rest on reaching out to weak ties that make a difference in our lives even though they don’t have to. This makes our circles seem less impersonal and impenetrable and just like that, the world seems easier to navigate. As Maya Angelou said, “the more you know, the better you do”. Therefore, the more we know about how things work, the more we feel a sense of belonging.
Preparing for Networking
Networking is an ongoing process. It requires persistence, attention and organization. We tend to have a misconception that it comes naturally to people but it doesn’t, for most people at least. The reality is that over 90% of people you meet are stressed about meeting others. It is a basic human characteristic to associate meeting new people with risk. However, practice makes perfect and with enough preparation and repetition, you will be more comfortable. By going with curiosity and open mind, connecting with people and having authentic conversations will no longer be a challenge.
Nowadays there are many ways to reach out to professionals. Whether through social media, in-person events or virtual events, make sure to be wary of people’s time and keep your messages and emails concise. Most importantly, do your background research. This can be done by reviewing their LinkedIn profile and researching their organization. In familiarizing yourself with their accomplishments and career path, you will be able to find a common ground and build a trusting relationship. During your chat, you can ask open-ended questions that will allow you to build on the answers. I tend to prepare them in advance to be time-efficient and maintain an organic flow.
The following are some Harvard suggested questions you may wish to consider asking when networking with individuals or potential employers.
What are your primary job responsibilities?
What experience did you have to get your job?
How long have you worked here?
What is your own background and experience?
What is a typical work day like?
How long is your work day?
How much variety is there in your work?
How much training/supervision do or did you receive?
How much client contact do you have?
How much contact and what kinds of interactions do you have with individuals or groups outside the office or organization?
Does your job require that you travel?
What do you like/dislike most about your work?
What are the toughest problems and decisions you handle?
What do you wish you had known about your position/the field before you Started?
What type of professional and personal skills does it take to succeed at this type of work?
What is the size and makeup of your organization?
What is a typical starting salary for someone with my experience?
What is the salary ceiling for an experienced lawyer?
What do you see as the major issues/ trends in the field today?
What books or journals would you recommend that I read?
Which professional associations should I join?
Do you recommend that I enroll in any particular classes (clinical or otherwise)?
What opportunities for advancement are there in this organization or in the Field?
What would be a typical next career move for someone in your position?
What recommendations do you have for me regarding a job search strategy?
What other people do you recommend that I talk with? May I tell them that you referred me to them?
Remember, you are not limited to just asking questions. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and talk about your own interests and career aspirations. Only asking questions can turn the chat into an interrogation rather than a mutually enjoyable and educational conversation.
Finally, make sure to always follow up with a thank you message or email. This is a crucial step as it allows you to be more memorable and communicates how the chat was not only valuable, but that you are acting on their advice. You can also keep notes on what you learn about your contacts so your future correspondence can have a personalized touch.
No one succeeds alone and everything starts with you. The power of networking has no limits, so get out of your comfort zone and make new connections!