Networking the Right Way: How Professional Networking Works

Lisa Freudlsperger
Communication and interaction skills

"She must have a good network" or "Oh, he knows everyone! Ask him if he can think of a good contact!" Have you ever heard statements like thes before? Or have you said them yourself? Professional and private networks are always based on contacts. And this network of relationships first needs to be built up and maintained. But first the question: What is meant by networking in a professional context? And what are the benefits of networking inside and outside the company?

Definition and types of networking

Contacts turn into tight-knit networks, and thus various kinds of networks are created: They exist for almost everything and everywhere: whether carpools, hobby gardeners, dog sports enthusiasts or solo travelers. If you want to get a taste of a formal network, you can look for professional associations, groups for founders, for women or expats. A mixed network that is aligned with your own goals and interests is ideal.

All networks follow one principle: The members offer and are looking for something. They share interests and goals. In private as well as in professional networks. In both areas of life, people always choose contacts based on whether and how they might be useful. This sounds very rational at first, but it is an integral part of networking. Contacts support and help each other, and this is exactly how networking provides benefits on a personal and collective level.

Networking advantages

See and be seen, or also know and be known? An important benefit of networking is to increase your own visibility. Those who have a good network also receive more feedback. This provides more opportunities to share experiences. On a personal level, networking brings these benefits, among others:

  • getting to know the strategies and success concepts of others

  • motivating and inspiring each other (here we could link to the blog article "New ELearning "Employee motivation")

  • contributing your own knowledge and at the same time positioning yourself

  • making recommendations and vice versa being recommended

  • supporting each other in the face of challenges

The company as a whole also benefits when employees network diligently on the job. Competent and friendly employees representing the company contribute to a good reputation. By exchanging information with representatives of other companies and organizations, information often reaches the company earlier. This can lead to a valuable knowledge advantage. For example, with regard to market information, industry internals, trends, changes in legislation or personnel changes. A direct comparison shows how companies complement each other and which cooperations can be target-oriented.

However, writing success stories requires a plan! And to do that, the first step is to look at your own goals. Why do you want to build or expand your professional network in the first place?

Set goals

personal networking goals vary individually. Some people would like to have more contacts overall, while others want to make more conscious use of their existing network. In the first step, it is accordingly important to become aware of one's own goals with regard to professional networking and to formulate them. Black on white is best. And then in the second step we need...? Exactly, a strategy. In this case: a network strategy.

To prepare, it helps to become aware of your own interests, strengths and weaknesses.

If the networking style matches your personality, it is much easier to appear authentic and feel comfortable. First and foremost is the question: Who am I? Try to assess yourself: Are you more reserved or sociable? Do you find it easy to work with others? Do you tend to be a perfectionist? Difficult questions, but: to answer them, friends, family, partners or colleagues can often help. The ''who question'' is followed by questions about one's own strengths and weaknesses. Where else are you having trouble? What would you like to improve? And vice versa: What can you contribute? And how can you and your contacts make use of these strengths and knowledge?

You can get even more specific about networking if you now take another look at your goals and distinguish whether they are industry- and activity-related, project-related or personal goals.

Check contacts regularly

Whom to contact? This also requires preparation and structure. An inventory / stocktaking of contacts can happen in the form of a mind map. It's important to not capture all contacts, but those that you can and actually want to connect with. Then you arrange and sort these contacts into groups. And third and last comes the all-important question: Can this contact currently help me with my professional goals? Could this person know someone who can assist me in making this happen? If you answer yes to the question, then this contact will remain in your professional network. Are there any gaps in your inventory, or in the worst case do you notice: No one can help, then it's time to fill the address book. Either way, networking always requires preparation, and that involves first researching appropriate events and opportunities to meet the right people.

What to look out for in digital networking

An important step in networking is finding interesting contacts and events. Social networks are a useful tool. LinkedIn, Xing or even Facebook and Instagram. They facilitate targeting based on the information of a profile. Theoretically. In practice, however, the following happens much more frequently: A contact request comes in, and you have no idea who the person behind the profile is or why this person wants to add you.

Therefore, rule number one when contacting someone digitally is: Anyone who adds a contact always sends a message along with it. This message says why you are contacting the person, how you know each other or why you should get to know each other. Equally important for a successful online presence: a current and professional photo. Preferably without a hat or sunglasses. Also, an updated and maintained profile. Are your employer, position and contact details still correct?

Interaction also needs to be cultivated online. Don't ignore contacts online, but like and comment on their posts. Also post content yourself and respond to comments and queries. Share experiences and ideas or use posts for specific question or requests for support.

Digital networking can be more far-reaching and faster, but is less spontaneous and personal social networks never fully replace face-to-face meetings, but they are useful research tools and an important complement to on-site networking. They also facilitate the search for interesting events.

Instructions on how to start a conversation

Let's say you're out at a networking event. Now, how do you engage in conversation with others? It's always good to be prepared to give a brief introduction of yourself. This includes your name and the name and type of your company.Your own specifics or those of your product or company. Also, a brief explanation of how you plan to achieve desired goals and how your interviewer will benefit from getting to know you. This basis helps shy people to network as well as making appointments in advance, for example. This allows you to prepare and tune in to your counterpart even more individually.

Finding a good conversation starter can be practiced! Whether shy or extroverted. We have put together some options for you here:

  • Ask questions during presentations

  • approach questioners or speakers

  • Use waiting time and start a conversation with the person behind or in front of you

  • Reach out to others who are there alone and appear to be open

  • Approach and join familiar faces

  • Use a gesture

  • Involve the environment

  • Ask an open question about the program, schedule, speakers, etc.

Tips for networking on site

After entering the conversation, small talk creates a kind of "warm-up" phase. The classic topics include the weather, travel, hobbies or food. Common interests are even better. It is best to formulate your specific request, if you are pursuing one, directly and clearly. However, it is always important to consider the type of event: At parties or company outings, the focus is on more casual, private topics; at trade fairs and conventions, a mixture of thematically appropriate input and a pinch of small talk is appropriate.

So what is important is what is said, how it is said and how the body languagebody language accompanies what is said.

We have also put together our top 7 for you:

  • Maintain eye contact during the conversation without staring.

  • Smile and nod.

  • practice in active listening (link here to the blog post "Active Listening"): Don't interrupt, give appropriate feedback, or ask relevant follow-up questions. You can also repeat parts of what has been said.

  • Give sincere compliments.

  • Show humor.

  • Also, always keep in mind who the person you are talking to is, where they currently stand, and where they intend to go. Make it clear how you can support, but be brief and personable.

  • Conclude the conversation skillfully. First, through nonverbal communication: taking a step back or lean back slightly. Next ask for the business card, say that you need to move on, but give a preview of what's coming next: an email, another meeting, or even a project.

Stay in contact

Part of professional networking is also a balance in keeping in touch. You don't want to be pushy, but you also don't want to seem too distant. The right measure is related to the categorization of your contacts, as well as whetheryou send Christmas cards or presents. However, regardless of this, there are some opportunities that are always apporopriate for getting in touch. Are you interested in some examples?

  • Happy Birthday. Calendars or social media help as reminders.

  • Forward interesting articles or video posts to contacts.

  • Get in touch when you're in the neighborhood. Maybe invite them for lunch or coffee.

  • Draw attention to potentially interesting events or collaborations.

  • Congratulate contacts on successes.

Those who become members of a formal network can also score points through regular attendance and contributions or by taking on fixed tasks. In terms of the longevity of relationships in both private and professional environments, attention, appreciation and consideration are important in addition to generosity. The principle of give and take is of particular importance. This also means making a proactive effort, i.e. not expecting something in return immediately.

In a nutshell: Professional networking requires quite a bit of preparation and patience, but it also comes with a variety of benefits. On an individual level and for the company as a whole. And don't worry: It's also a lot of fun, ensures inspiring encounters, as well as a stimulating and informative exchange in which people are happy to invest time.

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