Professional networks are key to being effective and having a successful career, we explain how.
It can be easy to think about your career in an individualistic way. After all this is your life, and you need to decide how you want to organise it.
But careers are built alongside other people and in organisations; given this, it is important to spend some time thinking about how you build a professional network, relate to other people and work within and across organisations.
There is loads of research highlighting that people who have strong networks are more effective in their roles and more successful in their careers.
The truth is that you can’t know everything yourself, and so you often have to rely on someone else who knows more than you do about a particular area or student employment, about what opportunities are available in your career or even the best place to get a drink after work. These are all examples of the way that a strong network provides you with resources that make you more effective.
You may have heard the term social capital to describe the kinds of resources that you can access through having a strong network.
Social capital is the idea that social connections give you resources that have an equivalent value to that of money (financial capital). The more social capital you have the better off you are.
Research on social capital also makes the important point that social capital is not just good for you.
Effective networkers believe in reciprocity and give back as much as they benefit from their network. Increasing social capital is good for the individual, for other people in their network, for the organisation where they work and for the country that they live in.
The first component of your network is the people that you work with. An organisation is first and foremost a network of people. You need to devote time to building relationships with your colleagues.
Effective early talent professionals have connections right across the business and at all levels. These relationships are social, operational and professional and may often be focused on the giving and receiving of practical help and support, but there also needs to be an element of advocacy.
You need to talk about the value you bring to the organisation and what graduates, interns and school and college leavers can bring. You are not just networking for yourself, but also evangelising for the value of early talent.
Of course, the advocacy element of networking needs to be subtle and shouldn’t become a hard sell, but it is particularly important in your interactions with senior staff.
The second component of your network is building effective external relationships with others in the same field.
An external network gives you a host of things that an internal network cannot. The colleagues that you meet through ISE and other industry networking opportunities give you the opportunity to benchmark your practice, find out about how things work elsewhere, hear about suppliers, partners and products and of course discover jobs and training opportunities.
As your career progresses you are likely to move organisations and sector-wide networks become increasingly important as they endure beyond a particular role or organisation.
External networks are built up through a mixture of attending events, meeting people for coffee, emails and phone calls.
As with all relationships you need to devote some time and energy to them and remember that effective networking is characterised by give and take (reciprocity).
Finally, networking is increasingly taking place online. The importance of this form of networking has become even greater during the pandemic.
You have an abundance of online tools available to you including email, videoconferencing, Zoom and Whatsapp, but the social networking tools such as Linkedin and Twitter are likely to be particularly useful. Make sure that you have thought about how you are presenting yourself online, that your accounts and profiles are up to date and that you post useful and interesting things.
As with all other forms of networking it is important to put something into the network as well as take useful things out of it.
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