By Beverly E. Jones
Sick of having people tell you to network?
Well, get over it.
Networking is critical to your job search. And to the rest of your career as well.
Before we discuss why networking is key to professional success, we’ll talk about the meaning of "networking."
To begin, let’s explore why the term might creep you out.
One reason you might feel unease is that the word "networking" often is used to describe how computers are linked so they can operate together. So perhaps part of your negative reaction is that computer-speak can have a technological, inhuman tone.
The term seems to imply that you intend to use people for your own gain.
But, "using people" for your benefit is not real or effective networking.
Definitions of networking vary, but a common one is something like: "meeting people and sharing information and services for mutual benefit, often in the context of your career."
That definition leaves out a very important word: relationships.
So for this article, and my other posts here on Job-Hunt, let’s define "networking" as "building a diverse collection of relationships for the purpose of sharing information and support."
And let’s be clear: the foundation of networking is each person’s need to be connected with other people.
Although requirements for companionship vary among individuals, all humans are inherently social. In fact, the link between social connection and overall health is becoming increasingly clear.
Medical experts suggest that people with rewarding relationships are more likely than their peers to recover quickly from illness, build resilience and immunity, and live long lives.
Beyond physical health, research suggests that connected people have more confidence and self-esteem, and they experience lower levels of anxiety and depression. In contrast, the consequences of feeling isolated can be dramatic, including chronic negativity, fearfulness, disrupted sleep and disengagement at work.
Networking is about laying groundwork for beneficial relationships of all sorts, from casual acquaintances with whom you share a community, to close and enduring friendships. The wider and more varied your collection of relationships, the more they can provide support for your professional interests, as well as for your broader life.
Because Job-Hunt is focused on work issues, much of what we talk about involves ways to support your career growth. But career networking doesn’t happen within tight boundaries.
The people you know in any aspect of your life have the potential to bring opportunities and insights that can transform your professional journey.
Now that we’ve defined networking, here are seven reasons why it is so important for job seekers and other professionals:
Countless surveys, including those conducted by Job-Hunt and LinkedIn, suggest that networking is the dominant method used by successful job seekers.
More than 70 percent of the time, winning searches involve a referral or other human intervention, and not simply the workings of a job site or automated system.
One reason for this is that much of the job market is hidden, with many jobs being filled internally or through referrals, without ever being posted.
Even when a job is listed externally, connected people have an advantage. First, they may hear about the job before it is posted.
And when they are able to speak with people within the organization, the information they gather is helpful as they complete an application and prepare for an interview.
It’s always helpful if your former boss is willing to write a glowing letter about your work. But a reference will carry more weight if it comes from a person who is known and trusted by someone in the hiring organization.
And the more people you know, the more likely it is that you can identify a shared contact willing to speak up for you.
One value of having many professional contacts is that it puts you in the flow of information about things like market shifts, regulatory developments and technical innovations. And if you participate in multiple communities, you may spot developing trends and speak with deeper insight about the future of your field.
Any good networker can tell you that when you are out and about meeting other people you frequently come across opportunities. Maybe you hear about somebody who needs a speaker or podcast guest, and you snag an invitation that’s a perfect way for you to raise your profile.
Sometimes you hear about an opening that would be great for someone you know, like your college friend who really needs a new job. If you become a connector, bringing other people together, you can develop a tremendous reserve of goodwill that will always be there when you need it.
And then one day you may learn about a new position that would be perfect for you, even if you didn’t think you were in the market for a new job.
You may be reluctant to go to conferences or other events because you don’t feel comfortable making small talk, or you are afraid that strangers might reject you. Many of us start our careers feeling shy. But learning to get over the hesitation and confer with our colleagues or clients can be essential to career success.
The best way to move past fear and improve your skills is to practice, practice, practice. An easy way to get started is to push yourself out of your shell in situations where you are already relatively comfortable, like in your church or neighborhood.
As you become more adept at networking you may become more effective in various aspects of your job.
When marketing consultant Bob Shaff walks through a room of strangers, you can see that he’s a master networker. Bob interacts with person after person, asking gentle questions and helping each one to relax and engage with the crowd.
He obviously knows how to build relationships. But Bob says that he didn’t start out that way.
As a young engineer at IBM, Bob was painfully shy and felt isolated. But then IBM taught him sales skills, and he learned that connecting with other people is deeply rewarding. Today, he says, meeting other people is a source of endless joy.
And research suggests that happy, positive people are more likely to be attractive to others and experience career success.
Humans are social beings with a deep need to stay connected. Having a strong collection of relationships is good for your health and can bring you confidence and a sense of well-being. Relationship-building is a skill you can learn, and the more you do it the more rewarding it will feel. And the more widely connected you are, the more you will grow as a professional, attract career opportunities, and help other people as well.
Beverly E. Jones is a Job-Hunt Networking Contributor. Bev is an executive coach, and a former lawyer and corporate executive. In addition, she is an active writer and speaker, and the author of “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO.” Her career podcast, “Jazzed About Work,” appears on NPR.org. Visit her website, Clearways Consulting, and Find Bev on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.