Yes, networking is still important. No, it doesn’t have to be old-school.
For many, networking may sound like a stuffy term that brings forth the image of a room filled with elite, wealthy, and not-so-diverse people. At the most basic level, networking is a way to meet new people. What sets this term apart from other ways of meeting new people are one’s intentions and goals. Networking can be as meeting some locals at a bar to watch a game and asking them about their work and hobbies because you care to know, or it can be as strategic as attending a professional conference, leadership summit, or career fair with the aim of gaining new skills, knowledge, or making a connection that may lead to an interview.
Either way, it’s important for both human connection and career development. In fact, 80% of professionals believe that career success can be elevated through professional networking. With new technologies, a future-of-work landscape that is rapidly evolving, paired with demographics showing millennials dominating the workforce, networking can be redefined as desired and can take on a more relevant meaning for today’s professionals. Instead of overanalyzing what networking is or isn’t, professionals should prioritize community building as an asset to professional and personal growth.
What if I don’t know what my goal is?
If you feel overwhelmed by the pressures to perform, excel, and stay visible all while wondering if you’re taking the right approach, take a breath and know that you aren’t alone. Intention and goals are important, but they don’t have to be statutory, and you can edit them over time as you learn and grow. Keep reading for actionable steps you can take to make progress today!
Start by asking yourself some questions...
What do you want from your networking experience? And, is there something you need that convinced you to network in the first place? Do you want to ideate and get comfortable speaking on a particular topic or new idea you’ve been sitting on? Do you need to find a job? Do you feel like you have a wealth of knowledge or skill you want to share with others? Do you need to find other talented people to help you with a project?
→ If your main intention is to fill a need—
like finding some talented freelancers who can help you complete a project, you will need to more closely consider your tactics in filling that need. When seeking to fill a need, the achieved goal will likely result in finding a place on a team (a job) or building out a team (seeking talent).
→ However, If your main goal is more of a want—
like building a few more quality connections on Linkedin with people who are doing interesting work you want to keep up with, your approach is going to be highly customizable and flexible. Don’t skip out on achieving your wants because it is a great way to build a network built on broad interest and deep connections that will be an undeniable asset.
Both In-Person and Virtual Networking Can Be Great Options!
The ways in which society has used technology to keep people connected, working, and learning during the pandemic is one of its few positive outcomes. Pre-pandemic, most people would advise networking and building teams in person. However, with customizable features for hosts of virtual events, there are new ways to encourage people to meaningfully engage online. Additionally, data indicates 68% of U.S. employees now prefer remote work over going into an office. As a result of a global threat that forced our hand in how we work and engage, people have shown great adaptability and learned to make new systems work better for them.
What to consider when joining or finding a team.
When evaluating the best ways to network with the intention of filling a need, it’s important to decide what you are able or willing to invest. If you want to save your hard-earned cash, don’t currently have an income, or don’t quite know your exact target for landing a job, consider tailoring your networking approach towards low-to-no-cost platforms. Attend free virtual conferences ,events, or start accounts with networking platforms that meet your needs without charging. There are plenty of high-quality options available right from your search engine. These low-cost tactics are also a great way for small businesses and start-ups to attract talent at little-to-no cost.
Another great tool is Linkedin. Whether you are networking in person or virtually, everyone should have a Linkedin account, and this platform is one of the best places to shop for other free networking opportunities. Spend time creating or sprucing up your profile and start making those connections!
Additionally, virtual networking opportunities can be a smart way to meet with a diverse group of people, make quick connections on Linkedin (which increases the volume of opportunities/and or skilled people you’ll see on your feed), and heighten your personal or professional brand. For those looking to recruit, free networking events are an effective way to attract diverse talent and are innately more inclusive.
If you have a bit more time and/or money to invest, you might choose to opt for something local (e.g. purchase a coworking membership), or register to attend an in-person, industry-specific event (e.g. ASU + GSV Summit). Keep in mind, too, that many of the world’s biggest networking brands are now offering hybrid events to help individuals find the best fit for their lifestyle.
Don’t let the overwhelm keep you from accessing opportunities.
Networking can enable you to meet others, learn new skills, build a brand, give back to your community, and earn money. Whether you opt for a free platform like Linkedin, or layer on memberships or in-person events, there are many ways to network effectively, and you can achieve any number of goals through each. For those of us who have enjoyed being able to turn our zoom cameras off while sipping our coffee at home during meetings, or while job hunting, don’t worry.
Networking can still work for you! Even though building a professional community and personal brand may feel intimidating, it is crucial for today’s working standards, and it is—thankfully— no longer designed with a one-size-fits-all approach.