In a connected age, developing and maintaining a strong professional network has become one of the key prerequisites for professional success. Unfortunately, over time, the expression “network” and the idea of making connections in order to advance in life and business began to carry negative connotations. Some people consider networking to be one-sided and based on “using” a person to get a job recommendation or for information they may have. Other people see it as nepotism. But let’s put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Imagine a business owner or CEO of a company that is just surviving and needs people to boost the company. Preferably somebody they know, they trust and that has shown skills. Who would you employ?
Networking plays a big role in our career development indeed. Career experts say that a large number of job openings are not publicly listed or advertised; some even say that this number reaches 80%. Instead, positions are filled through personal recommendations or networking. People feel very judgmental when it comes to hiring via recommendations (read nepotism). But if we go back to our CEO above, it does make sense. Wouldn’t you rather hire someone that comes recommended by a person you trust professionally, or someone you already have a closer connection to than a person that is, for you, just a couple of letters on a paper? Someone you already know will fit in with your team and whose values reflect the values of your company? That is something you cannot find out from a resume, or even an interview.
Faced with these numbers, many people feel discouraged towards even applying for a job, and often feel judgmental towards this way of hiring, thinking that the job position is already “reserved” for someone else. It probably is, but not in the way you think. It’s reserved for a person who has managed to make some sort of a deeper connection with an employer before the need for a new employee even arose. That could have easily been you.
Back to the essence of networks and connections
Networking means finding people that are equally interested in expanding their circle of friends as you are, someone you can easily relate to due to shared interests, and someone who is willing to share their opinions and experiences with others. Most of all, networking is a two-way street. It’s based on building long-term relationships with people you like and from whom you would, one day, be comfortable asking for advice, or giving one. Connections you make can help you along your career path, but can also put you in a position to be able to help others on their path.
The value I see in networking is that it gives me the means to expand my circle of friends and make myself available for new perspectives and new ideas. There was a time when I was, unintentionally, closed off to new opportunities because I was feeling shy and awkward around other people. Like many, I considered it a skill reserved for a lucky few. Now I see that this too can be learned and improved upon. For me, networking requires being flexible and going out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, it has proven to be more than rewarding. If nothing else, it allowed me to meet people I can grab coffee with every now and then, and talk about something we feel passionate about, or just anything.
It’s your job to make yourself be seen and heard. It’s your job to build a reputation in your industry. It’s your job to create opportunities for your own development.
One way to do that is to build connections with people that will inspire you and encourage you to keep moving forward. Start thinking about your future now by actively looking for opportunities that will allow you to meet new people and get out of your comfort zone.
Take for example Spark.Me, one of the biggest tech/business conferences in the Balkans, and hundreds of people interested in technology, business and innovation that will be coming from all over the region. That is the perfect networking opportunity for you right there. Don’t miss it!