Professional Networking Explained in 5 Minutes

Have you ever been curious about what professional networking is, how it works and what makes it truly effective? Have you ever found yourself in a crowded room or other event and seen THAT person who can literally speak to anyone, about any topic, and wonder how he or she does it?

The truth is, networking is a skill and, like most skills, requires time, practice, energy and even a little luck (sports stars practice all the time but require luck to achieve those last-second, game-winning scores). There are some tips and tricks, one of which is crucial and we will share with you shortly.

First, though, networking (in a professional sense) is simply the act of speaking with another person (or group of people, as the case may be) and swapping information while mentally cataloguing how that other person may be of service to you in the future and, if done correctly, how you may be able to assist him or her (I mention the “if done correctly” part on purpose: networking is meant be a two-way street).

Now that you know what networking IS, I want to explain what networking IS NOT (and this is vital):

  • Networking is not asking someone for a job
  • Networking is not asking for an interview
  • Networking is not asking for someone to hire your spouse/child/best friend/second-cousin-twice-removed-whom-you-think-is-awesome

What makes networking effective? Simply stated: Just talking. That sounds easy enough, right? Someone says something (hopefully, it’s something relevant), the other person forms thoughts so that coherent words/phrases/sentences tumble out in response to the original point; the first speaker then gives his/her response or another person pipes up. Around and around you go with your networking mate(s), delving deeper into whatever topic is on hand, hoping that the conversation either continues to flow or at least does not stall in some awkward way (I’ve not dated in a long time but this sounds a lot like what my single friends tell me about dating life).

Regardless, this is the gist of networking. But what makes it effective? Beyond the “time/practice/energy/luck” components I mentioned earlier, networking becomes truly effective when one goes beyond the topical niceties we all use in these situations (“My name is Emily Kapit and I am the Lead Strategist and Head Resume Writer for a career advisory company” is my schtick).

The act of networking is great for getting the basics on someone; the real magic happens when you take it a few steps further and connect with a person. Connecting means finding a common ground to talk about, one that may or may not pertain to the topic (“You know, I think we parked at the same time and I saw you have North Carolina plates–I actually grew up in North Carolina! Are you from there or did you just recently move from there?”).

You would be shocked–shocked–how much more effective connecting is over networking; additionally, and this can sound counter-intuitive at first, I often find connecting with others is easier than networking. Why? Networking can often feel limiting to a specific topic, career-wise or other; connecting, on the other hand, is limitless. You can discuss nearly anything under the sun (though, especially in an election year, please watch the political topics).

There you go–not only did today’s post cover the basics of networking but now you know what networking is not as well as how you can be a really effective networker (by connecting with people instead). Of course, networking is now often done in cyber-space so please take the connecting idea to this internet realm as well. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are all amazing sites for making…connections.

Bonus Question 1) “What if  I am a little on the shy/introverted side? How do I make networking work for me?” Honestly, the best answer is practice (I’d like to suggest a little bit of “liquid courage” but that seems less than professional of me). In all seriousness, please do practice–try networking/connecting with people in your comfort zones and expand from there. Similar to interviewing, having the initial networking conversations with a loved one or close friend can be great practice for the real thing.

Bonus Question 2) “I like the idea of ‘Connecting with people’–where can I learn more about this?” If you are in the South Florida area, Lead Career Strategist & Head Resume Writer, Emily Kapit MS, CPRW, will be speaking on this exact topic at the Emerge Broward event on Thursday, October 18. Please message her ([email protected]) for more information or visit the event’s Facebook page (http://tinyurl.com/cztlnsm). If you are not in the South Florida area, please email Emily ([email protected]), as she would be happy to speak to you ad nauseum on the topic.