At its most basic, networking is a means to become more competitive in the marketplace. For example, adding a connection to your professional network increases the probability that you know someone who can open a few doors for you, provide a job opportunity or expose you to new ideas. When you establish firm connections, you benefit in a variety of ways, such as gaining more immediate access to new clients or new business opportunities.
Make Career Contacts
Career advancement is a result of who you know as well as what you know. Consequently, each gathering of people may include a potential work contact, someone who can help you enhance your skills or expand your career options. At the very least, you may meet someone to help you get plugged into professional events in your industry or geographical region. To make the most of networking opportunities, focus on how your contacts might help you achieve your career goals. Use that knowledge to develop your networking strategy, which may include reaching out to new contacts, leveraging current contacts by asking for referrals, or creating social capital by helping a contact schedule a speaker for a conference.
Each network connection you make provides a learning opportunity. When you talk to someone you become receptive to new and different ideas and perspectives. Each networking occasion may allow you to experience new things, expand your knowledge and increase what you can offer to your existing network connections. Before you ask for information or help, however, build social capital with the people in your network, notes Ivan Misner in "5 Ways to Use Your Network to Grow Your Business." This means offering to support their professional objectives before you ask them to support your own. Equally important is that you direct your request for advice to a contact with relevant expertise and that you abstain from asking for advice for which your contact would normally charge a fee.
Demonstrate Your Expertise
There's an expectation that professionals should be aware of current issues in their industry, geographical area and profession. Consequently, networking opportunities that allow you to demonstrate your expertise in these areas can lead to results-oriented networking, says Selena Rezvani in the Forbes article, "4 Must-Dos for Networking Situations." Whether you email a contact an article or introduce him to a potentially important connection, the relevance of the article or connection to your contact's needs confirms your knowledge and competence in a particular area. In turn, a contact who is confident in your expertise is more likely to support the results you seek, such as an introduction to someone who can enhance your career options.
If you've helped your network connections land new clients, obtain needed introductions or made other efforts on their behalf, you've done the work to establish relationships with them. You've also stored up some positive collateral. At this point, it's less likely that asking for a favor might jeopardize your relationship with the contact. In this case, it might be time to seek the help you need to achieve a professional objective, such as identifying new job opportunities. In response, your contact might support your efforts by sending you information regarding the relocation of a corporate headquarters to your area. Before you ask for help, however, just make sure you've done your part to establish a relationship.