Getting your professional career off the ground is an exciting endeavor, but it can also be daunting. Feeling intimidated by networking is entirely natural. But, with the right approach and knowledge, networking can be an invaluable platform to advance your career. Building a professional networking relationship is a journey that may start with something small — saying hello or attending an event — but can quickly grow into something bigger. So, investing in yourself through professional networking is a smart move that can pay off for years.
What is networking?
Networking is meeting, interacting, and connecting with people of similar or different professional backgrounds to exchange ideas, advice, and information that can help each other succeed in their respective careers.
It can occur in informal settings such as events, offices, or industry associations, or it can be done formally by connecting with individuals through email, LinkedIn, or other media platforms.
Professional networking allows you to build trust and learn from each other’s experiences, skills, knowledge, and even industries.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it provides access to people one may never have encountered before — allowing all involved to benefit from the diverse pool of knowledge collectively shared during the exchange.
Knowing what networking is and its importance is the first step to building a successful professional network. With intention and determination, your professional network can lead to new opportunities and unlock future success.
Why is networking important?
The importance of engaging in networking cannot be overstated — it gives people access to new ideas, experiences, and contacts they may not have had before — all invaluable for getting ahead professionally.
It is also an excellent way for people to learn new things from each other by interacting together and exchanging experiences that can lead to mutual growth or inspiration for the future.
Ultimately, networking builds an individual’s reputation, which may lead to gaining career growth or even change opportunities through referrals or recommendations from somebody in our network.
Examples of networking include cultivating relationships through face-to-face events such as business lunches, conferences, or meet-ups, joining relevant online social networks, participating in discussion forums, or volunteering at industry events.
All these activities allow you to build connections with those in your field while developing a strong sense of trust among colleagues. Here are more examples of networking skills:
1. Do your homework on the people you are meeting
A professional networking event can be intimidating, especially if you are new. Doing your homework before networking can be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful relationship.
Doing your homework includes researching the background of attendees, company or industry, and interests. Knowing this information beforehand allows you to ask questions thoughtfully and make connections in conversation that will demonstrate your familiarity with them and their profession.
In addition, it also builds trust, which is essential for all successful professional relationships.
Doing your homework will make you look like an organized person who takes the initiative — which is crucial for fostering solid relationships with those around us professionally.
Furthermore, doing your homework lets you be more conversational and make meaningful connections faster — leading to a more fruitful networking interaction.
2. Make a great first impression
Making a great first impression is vital when building professional networking relationships. Greeting with a firm handshake and warm smile are excellent starting points to make someone feel welcomed and appreciated.
However, it is essential not to overdo it — too much enthusiasm can be off-putting and might give the wrong impression. If someone senses your smile is forced or unnatural, they may feel uneasy or suspicious of your intentions.
Find a balance between enthusiasm and restraint — aim for an inviting yet natural expression. And ensure that your friendly demeanor is genuine — a fake smile can seem insincere and may create misunderstandings or even rejection.
3. Use their name in conversation
One of the best ways to demonstrate your interest in someone and foster positive connections is by using their name when engaging in conversation.
Calling someone’s name during conversations shows that you appreciate them, value their time, and are eager to get to know them better.
But it can be particularly tricky when meeting someone for the first time. In such cases, politely ask them to repeat their name after introducing themselves.
Do your research before meeting the person at an event — take some time to read up on the person or company you want to connect with and write down any meaningful details that can help strike up a conversation.
Knowing someone’s name creates an instant connection between you and them and can build relationships effectively.
4. Have an exciting story or two up your sleeve
Always have an interesting story or two up your sleeve. An exciting story should be memorable and conveys something unique about you as a person that creates a solid first impression.
It captures the listener’s attention and draws them in, whether related to career accomplishments, hobbies, or general life experiences that show how you overcame challenges, illustrate your personality, or showcase what makes you unique.
To develop an exciting story, focus on past events or anecdotes that can create intrigue. Think of funny, unexpected, or inspiring moments—stories that convey personal growth or development will highlight your potential as a valuable contact to others.
Your stories should paint a vivid picture of your personality and demonstrate enthusiasm, creativity, and intelligence.
There should be enough detail for the listener to feel connected to the story, but not so much that it becomes too lengthy.
The most important part is ensuring you are comfortable sharing the stories and can do so quickly and confidently.
5. Ask pertinent questions during conversations
Asking pertinent questions during conversations with people in your network is essential to developing symbiotic professional relationships.
Doing so demonstrates your genuine interest in understanding the person and will help build lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
Questions such as what someone does professionally, how they got into their current role, and what challenges they face can inform you about the profession’s current state, provide insight into the steps required to succeed, and provide valuable career advice.
So remember to ask pertinent questions during conversations with people in your network. Asking pertinent questions is essential to engaging in symbiotic professional networking relationships and can be incredibly beneficial for all individuals involved.
6. Avoid talking about yourself non-stop
Make sure not to monopolize conversations with those in your network — focus on building the relationship. Listen carefully, ask questions, and be interested in the other person’s background and work.
Avoid talking about yourself non-stop as this can come across as self-centered and could turn off the other person.
Instead, understand the other person’s motivations, goals, and interests to create an active give-and-take atmosphere that opens the door for networking, collaboration, or advancement opportunities.
The key to success lies in listening more than you talk, fostering mutual trust, and above all else, being genuine.
7. Don’t treat networking as a transactional
Networking should be about building relationships with professionals for long-term success rather than a transactional relationship that seeks an immediate payoff.
A transactional relationship is based solely on giving and receiving — an arrangement where each person seeks something from the other.
This type of relationship often results in short-term gain with little concern for future interactions. Building relationships for success requires going beyond a transactional approach.
Be friendly, engaging, and kind, participate in conversations, listen actively to show interest in what others say, and always stay professional.
So, focus on sharing knowledge, creating value, and providing meaningful advice to nurture a valuable long-term connection.
Be authentic, trustworthy, and reliable to connect with others in your network and foster mutually beneficial relationships that will ultimately carry you further in your career.
8. Keep your energy level high
Someone who radiates negativity and low energy are unpleasant to be around. As networking involves engaging in conversations with people, presenting yourself as a positive and enthusiastic individual is essential when introducing yourself or conversing with potential connections.
A positive mindset will make a good impression, create exciting conversations, and encourage others to view you as someone worth knowing. So, try to maintain an upbeat energy level.
Nobody wants to talk to someone whose attitude is consistently negative. Therefore, having the right mindset during networking interactions can make all the difference in forming beneficial relationships.
Keeping conversations light-hearted and enthusiastic will create an enjoyable atmosphere and make others more likely to be interested in you and your goals.
9. Avoid coming across as desperate for connections
Desperation can be easily detected by attempting to make an overly positive impression, sending too many messages, or exhibiting restlessness in conversation.
Desperation can also be identified by a lack of genuine interest in the other person or pushing boundaries set from the start. This sends the wrong impression and could damage any chance of forming a successful relationship.
It indicates a lack of confidence, making the other person feel uncomfortable or pressured into responding.
Creating and maintaining a successful relationship requires trust between both individuals, which can only be achieved by getting to know and understanding each other’s needs.
Genuine relationships take effort on both sides and cannot be rushed — they develop naturally over time as conversations deepen.
10. Know when to give up on someone in your network
While it is important to engage with people who may have different interests and ideologies, there are times when you may need to give up on someone in your network.
Always remain respectful no matter how frustrating the situation might be. If the communication has become strained or unproductive, take a step back and consider if pursuing further contact would be beneficial.
Ultimately, it is best to focus your energy on building relationships with those that share mutual goals and values.
Suppose continued connection is not necessary or beneficial. In that case, it is best to cut ties politely — do not burn bridges, as this could negatively impact future opportunities.
Being mindful of your network and surrounding yourself with individuals who share similar ambitions will create the most meaningful professional relationships.
11. Stay out of networking traps
A mistake that many professionals make when engaging in professional networking is falling into what can be called a ‘networking trap’. This occurs when someone connects primarily for personal gain rather than forming honest and meaningful connections with others.
When you get too caught up in the idea of making connections or trying to use networking as a way to get ahead, you may get into situations that can be harmful to your professional reputation — it becomes apparent to the other person that their network contact does not have a genuine interest in them as an individual leading to mistrust.
Networking traps can be difficult to detect, but there are some signs that someone might be trying to take advantage of you.
These include people asking too many personal questions, requesting favors without providing anything in return, or making unrealistic promises.
To avoid getting trapped, focus on building beneficial relationships for everyone involved. Think carefully about who you reach out to and why.
Have honest conversations and take time to get to know people. Listen intently, offer helpful advice, and find ways to give back before asking for help.
12. Make meaningful connections
Establishing meaningful connections is key to having a successful and symbiotic professional networking relationship. It is essential to know the people you network with and why they are involved in their respective professions.
Doing so can enable more engaging conversations and help build trust among everyone involved, allowing for more positive interactions.
And by taking the time to understand one another’s backgrounds and motivations, it will be easier to identify common interests and create deeper relationships.
Lastly, knowing each other better allows for more excellent collaboration opportunities that could benefit everyone in your network. Developing meaningful connections with those around us opens doors for many possibilities, from potential job referrals to new business ventures.
13. Share updates about yourself in a positive light
Be strategic when sharing updates about yourself in a positive light on social media platforms, and make sure that the content you post interests those within your circle of contacts.
For example, you could talk about your recent success at work, project milestones achieved, or share information relevant to the industry.
Or share content related to topics that would interest those within your circle of contacts.
For example, if you are trying to build relationships in the Banking and Finance industry, make sure your content focuses on financial trends and insights.
This will demonstrate your knowledge and give others a better idea of why they should connect with you.
14. Avoid engaging in gossiping
Gossiping can damage relationships and have a lasting negative impact if those involved talk about it outside the conversation. It is vital to remain conscious of your conversations and how you communicate.
Speak positively and professionally at all times, and when someone begins to talk negatively or starts to share gossip, politely detour the conversation or change topics altogether.
Avoid topics that could lead to gossiping, such as discussing personal issues or making rumors about other people.
If necessary, provide gentle feedback telling the person that you do not feel comfortable discussing certain matters that will not benefit you in the long run and prefer to keep things professional.
If someone does not stop making rumors or discussing other people, respect their wishes and move on.
Showing respect for yourself and others during networking conversations is essential, as it allows you to stay focused on building strong, positive relationships rather than merely speculating on the failures or successes of others.
15. Be honest and transparent about your goals
Let people know upfront what you are looking to gain from networking. Be specific in telling them how they can help you and what value you may provide them with.
Transparency means letting people know your goals, such as the type of connections or contacts you seek and why you wish to network with them.
Being transparent will make the other people in your network feel more comfortable engaging with you as they know exactly where your intentions lie.
On the other hand, if the other person is not honest or transparent with their goals, it becomes difficult to establish a strong relationship based on trust. It is important to be aware of any signs of dishonesty and address them early on.
A successful symbiotic professional networking requires honesty to build trust and create an environment that fosters healthy relationships.
16. Avoid selling yourself right away
Avoid selling yourself during the introductory phase. Getting to know others at the network event and building relationships based on trust and mutual understanding are key to successful networking.
Selling yourself too soon can be off-putting and create unrealistic expectations for everyone — instead, spend time learning about each other’s backgrounds and interests so that when it is finally time to start selling yourself, there is already an established level of trust.
The right time to start selling yourself will depend on how comfortable you feel with the people in your network — or selling yourself comes after you have established trust and common ground.
Ensure that everyone understands mutual benefits by working together before entering any commitments.
Ultimately, having a successful professional networking relationship requires commitment, trust, and understanding — without these, it is not easy to have meaningful relationships.
17. Don’t contact everyone who attend an event
Only connect with those people who seem genuinely interested in you rather than trying to contact everyone who attended an event. Focus on building relationships with those who show genuine interest in you.
Reaching out to everyone who participated in an event can be dangerous because it will spread your time and energy too thin, leading to shallow connections that offer little benefit.
Instead, focus on connecting with those people who seem genuinely interested in you or your work. This will create stronger relationships with the potential for more meaningful collaborations as trust is established over time.
18. Avoid assuming you know what other people need
An important lesson to remember when building a professional networking relationship is to be willing to listen. A symbiotic relationship begins with strong communication and the capacity to create trust through active listening.
To prevent any assumptions, it is paramount that you always ask questions, especially those related to your purpose in networking and the objectives of others.
To better understand what the other person wants and needs, you must ask open-ended questions such as: “What challenges are you currently facing?
What exciting ambitions have you set your sights on? Is there anything I can do to assist you in achieving these aspirations? or “How can I work with you to achieve these goals?” How did you get into this field?”
The type of questions should include inquiries into their interests, experiences, and passions, as these will help create stronger connections. Asking follow-up questions stemming from conversations will also demonstrate your dedication to understanding one another and developing solid relationships.
19. Ask for advice whenever possible
Ask for advice whenever possible — it will show that you are open and willing to learn from others, which can be essential in building solid relationships. However, when asking for advice, do so without appearing desperate or presumptuous.
Start by being genuine and authentic in your interactions with people — show that you are interested in learning and growing from the relationships you form.
Demonstrate that you value others’ opinions, take their advice seriously, and are open to considering different perspectives. So, frame your questions thoughtfully. Asking for advice may be beneficial in building strong relationships. However, it is essential to ask for them in a way that does not appear desperate.
An excellent way to do this is by asking straightforward questions such as “Do you have any advice on how I can accomplish my goal?” or “What advice do you have on avoiding common mistakes?”. Asking such questions shows your desire to learn from others while still being confident in your abilities.
20. Take responsibility for how far your relationships go
When venturing into the world of professional networking, you must remember that relying too heavily on others’ advice or input can leave you vulnerable.
It is up to you to take responsibility for how far your relationships go and for ultimate success. Make sure that, while you are open to seeking out advice and input from others, you ultimately make the final decisions yourself and be true to your convictions.
Rely on your judgment and take responsibility for the relationships you form. While advice from others can be helpful, ultimately, you need to make your own decisions and be accountable for how far you go.
21. Don’t limit yourself
Try to explore other areas of expertise as well. Doing so will broaden your network and create more opportunities for you. Establishing connections with people with different skills and knowledge can be more beneficial than you can imagine.
Not only will it give you access to a broader range of expertise, but it can also provide valuable insight into different approaches that you may not have before or can give you a more comprehensive range of connections and open up new career growth opportunities down the line.
22. Share positive information
As you build your professional network, you must remember to seek out positive news stories related to individuals in your network. Sharing uplifting information about others encourages stronger ties between all relationship members.
When looking for good news, aim for stories relevant to the individual or their work, as this helps give recognition and exposure. Sharing positive information is also beneficial as it shows you care about their successes and appreciate the value they bring to the relationship.
23. Don’t be shy during face-to-face conversations
The key to successful networking lies in being open and honest. Being confident and taking the initiative is vital when engaging in face-to-face conversations.
Be bold and open-minded when discussing topics outside your field, as this can broaden your perspective and create unexpected opportunities.
Remember that there is strength in numbers, and speaking up when someone else starts the conversation can help you establish a strong connection with potential contacts.
24. Avoid jumping into conversations you know little about
It is essential to take the time to research and understand the context before engaging in conversations related to professional networking. Taking the time to prepare for such discussions will help you avoid misunderstandings.
In addition, try to maintain an open mind and respect all participating members. The key to having a successful networking relationship is establishing trust by actively listening, exchanging ideas, and offering advice whenever necessary.
Jumping into conversations without adequate preparation can lead to confusion or miscommunication — taking the time to understand what people are saying will help create a fruitful interaction and connection beneficial for everyone.
25. Show respect no matter whom you are talking with
It is critical to show respect to everyone you encounter and not feel intimidated by any opposing opinions. Even if you disagree with someone’s point of view, humility is essential to engage in a constructive conversation.
Investing effort into building trust with others is vital — so take time to listen, offer advice whenever possible and ensure that you respect everyone in your meeting.
Read also: 15 Examples of Taking Ownership
Taking the first steps in professional networking can be daunting, but it is essential to success and worth the effort. Professional networking is an invaluable opportunity to create meaningful relationships, tap into resources, and open doors to new opportunities.
Building solid connections with people who share your goals and values is the key to a successful professional networking relationship.