The benefits of networking

Networking is a term you’ll probably hear a lot of through your life, and even more so as you begin working towards a career. But what does networking actually mean, and is it really that important? Let’s find out what the benefits of networking are and why you should start as soon as possible.

Let’s break it down – what is networking?

Essentially, it’s the building of purposeful relationships – that is, relationships that can add some form of value to your life (outside of socialising).

Networking at high school might seem a bit different than if you’re an already established businessperson, for example. But at the end of the end of the day, it’s pretty similar. Actively seeking out and improving relationships beyond your immediate circle counts as networking, no matter how old you are.

Build social and professional relationships

When people hear “networking”, they typically think of a bunch of people in suits meeting in a conference room, shaking hands and swapping business cards. But there really isn’t just one way to network – in fact, there are heaps of things that count as networking, even if they don’t seem like it.

  • Connecting with other students outside your friend zone for study groups, mentoring, sports, etc.? That’s networking.
  • Developing better relationships with others when you need help, would like to volunteer your time, or get experience? That’s networking too.
  • Working at MacDonald’s for a few hours a week and engaging with other staff members and supervisors? You guessed it – networking.
  • Volunteering in an organisation and making an effort to interact with other volunteers and staff, as well as clients or customers? You probably know where this is going…it’s networking!

Whenever you make new contacts, share information or ideas, or have meaningful conversations about relevant topics, that’s the basic definition of networking. You’re probably already networking, you just might not realise it.

There are plenty of benefits to networking

You might be asking yourself why you should bother networking. After all, it’s an investment of your time and effort, so what do you get out of it?

Ultimately, there’s the possibility that your networking connections could create new opportunities or support you later down the track. For example, one of your links may provide you with:

  • a great reference
  • a recommendation for a job
  • the chance to join a team or project that you’re interested in
  • an opportunity to learn skills that add value to your resume
  • the chance to become a more competitive candidate in courses or job applications thanks to the knowledge, ideas, or information you learn from them.

When you’re looking for work, from internships to promotions, many positions are filled internally (that is, they don’t even advertise the role to the public). Having strong connections could mean that you’ll be the one to benefit in those situations.

Over the course of your career, if you stay focused and keep networking, you’ll end up with a large circle of acquaintances. They’ll be a great source of knowledge, provide you with up-to-date and relevant information, or might even send new clients and customers your way.

What skills can you learn from networking?

If these benefits aren’t enough, maybe knowing that networking can help you build some valuable skills will give you the push you need to start.

  • Communication: Building relationships and sharing knowledge requires speaking. Learning to communicate with people from different walks of life is a very valuable tool.
  • Active listening: This is important too – concentrating on what you’re being told, not interrupting, responding thoughtfully, and remembering what was said.
  • Non-verbal communication: Recognising and understanding unspoken communication such as facial expressions, eye contact, and body language is useful in nearly any career.
  • Public speaking: Mastering this early could put you at an advantage during interviews and other meetings where making a good and lasting impression is important.
  • Professionalism: Particularly in a career context, looking the part is key to successful networking. So is being polite, friendly, and thoughtful.
  • Patience: Just like making new friends, building connections can take time. Even if you’re not successful right away, the more effort you put in, the more you’ll get in return.

It’s never too early to start networking

If you’re still at high school, don’t be shy. Here’s a few simple ideas on how you could start networking, or expanding your existing network, right away.

  • Join clubs: Find those that reflect your areas of interest or subject choices, or consider signing up to ones that could teach you important skills. This includes anything from sporting clubs and study groups to focused project groups and community groups.
  • Chat with your parents’ friends and parents of your friends: They are a gold mine of information, with lots of knowledge about careers and educational pathways, amongst other things. They’ll also have connections of their own, which could possibly help you find work experience, a paid job, and more.
  • Maximise opportunities: Think things like work experience placements, unpaid and volunteer work, or internships. Be professional, interested, and enthusiastic, and take every opportunity to learn from and chat to others in the organisation. You never know where it could lead.
  • Put your social media to good use: Consider joining LinkedIn, an online platform made especially for networking. Think about connections you’d like to make and businesses you’d like to follow. Don’t be afraid to interact with people you admire or want to learn more about. Just make sure you keep an eye on what you post (or your post history).

By the time you leave high school or graduate from university, you might be surprised at how large your network is.

One thing to remember

Networking is a two-way street – people won’t include you in their circle if you don’t contribute your own ideas and information. Volunteering your services, introducing people to others who might be helpful, or recommending connections and services are all ways you can add value to your relationships.

Find out more

Feel like you’re too shy or introverted to reap the benefits of networking? We have some tips to help you get out of your comfort zone and make new connections – check them out in our blog here.

We also have lots of other articles on careers, work, and skills here.

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