How many times have you been told how important networking is? Plenty, I’m sure. So, at this point, you know that who you know can be the difference between you getting that new gig or not.
But, if that’s not motivation enough for you to go out and meet new people, here are four more ways networking can help you, beyond just growing your network in preparation for you next big career opportunity.
1. Gather Info on the Industry
Whether you’re changing industries or furthering your knowledge of your current one, networking and conducting informational interviews are a great way to figure out what’s going on in your field of interest.
Ask people you meet or sit down with about their recent challenges and accomplishments or about trends they’re seeing in their work. In particular, if something big has recently happened in your industry, see what your conversation partner thinks of the impact it might have on the field as a whole. You’ll get a much broader perspective if you expand the conversation beyond your own friends and officemates.
2. Learn From the Wins (and Mistakes) of Others
Sometimes it can be difficult to get people talking, even if you’re meeting one-on-one and not at some large awkward networking event. If this is happening to you, try asking the person you’re networking with about his or her successes and failures. Of course, you don’t want to say, “Tell me about a time you failed”—so try asking if, looking back on his career, if there’s anything he would do differently, or if there’s anything she would definitely recommend to people just starting out in the field.
Don’t feel weird asking about personal experiences. There’s plenty to be learned from the achievements and mistakes of others, and people love to talk about themselves.
3. Get Free Career Advice
Another bonus of networking is the chance to get some free career advice. Chatting with more experienced professionals in your industry of interest gives you the chance to ask them what they think of the career moves you’ve been mulling over.
Aside from getting good advice (here’s how to know if it’s not), it’s also a great way to show people your admiration. You wouldn’t be asking for advice if you didn’t respect their opinions, right?
4. Bounce Ideas Off People
You can also take the advice seeking a step further and bounce ideas off of people you meet through networking. Maybe you have an ambitious work-related project that you want to pitch to your boss or a presentation you’re thinking about submitting to an upcoming conference. Seeing what other industry professionals have to say can help you refine your argument and think through weak points.
This is also a great way to show off your skills a bit. Sharing some of your ideas gives you an opportunity to talk about your expertise and the issues that you care about. It’s usually easier to talk about your ideas than it is to talk about yourself, so if you feel weird tooting your own horn, this can be a good strategy.
Bottom line: There’s no excuse to not be networking. You stand to benefit from it no matter what stage of your career you’re in. And, if none of these four reasons appeal to you, consider this final perk of networking: helping people. Maybe you won’t directly benefit this time around, but helping someone else out has its own intrinsic value.
Photo courtesy of Nana B Agyei.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author