The unboring guide on why you should be networking!

Back in my university days I can recall countless lecturers and career advisors saying “hey you should be networking!” and “you should have a LinkedIn profile”. All the while I was rather ignorant of the what this alien term “networking” even meant. As far as I was aware networking was a reason my WiFi was down, and to be quite frank I really didn’t care enough mid way through my university days to give it the attention that it would inevitably deserve.

For many of us, when we hear the term we immediately think of corporate employees and CEOs in trimmed suits shaking hands and passing business cards to potential partners and customers. We think of academics attending conferences and sharing their latest insights from their ground breaking research. Yet we never insert ourselves in to any of these potential scenarios because we believe we aren’t worth networking with.

If you are anything like me you struggle with “imposter syndrome” and a general low view of yourself (experience and skills). But before you have even contemplated trying to “network” you judge yourself and think “why would anybody want to network with me? I am only just starting out” or “I am fairly new to all this, why would they care?”. And believe it or not, a lot of us think this way.

In this content piece I want to share with you my guide on why you should be networking, and the simple steps you can take to view it as a tool and opportunity to both further your career and add value to the world around you. Let’s get going!

The “networking” sales pitch

Firstly, what is “networking”? I’m glad you asked! Networking is basically building relationships. We all network day to day, just not in a professional sense. If we meet someone new online and start to talk to them and build a friendship we have expanded our network of friends (networking). If we meet someone in a social setting and begin hanging out with them and talking about life and giving advice, then that is “networking”, because we have literally expanded our immediate network of friends and acquaintances. Similarly, in the workplace, our colleagues are part of our network, they are a group of people we can seek support from and work with to achieve a particular goal or objective.

In a career capacity, you do not have to just build a network around people you know, or meet in a controlled setting. Instead (I would argue) networking can be done at any time, anywhere, with anyone, in any setting (online or in-person).

As humans we are relational by nature. If we know someone and we have some form of relationship with them, then we are more likely to be favoured by them compared to someone they do not know. Consider this, whenever you submit an application for a job, you are one person amongst tens, if not hundreds of candidates. Each person is unknown by the hiring manager, with no relationship to each of them. As such, each person on the candidate list gets “favoured” the same way, in this case they are not. As a result, unless you really stand out from the crowd with a top notch CV (or resume) and have a wonderfully written cover letter, you are likely to stand as much of a chance as the person above you on the list of candidates.

Now insert the person that has been talking with the hiring manager via LinkedIn and asked some basic questions the other day. This person spent time messaging the hiring manager back and forth, and even took time to arrange a short call to find out more about the position. During the process, they not only took interest in the job, but in the hiring manager’s career as well. I call this taking genuine interest in a person. When the hiring manager comes across this person’s resume/CV it is more likely they will stop to take more interest in this person. Not only that, but because this person took time to build an initial relationship with the hiring manager, they are likely to be looked on more favourably and given a better chance at proving themselves in subsequent rounds of interview.

Don’t believe me that networking works this well? According to HubSpot, 85% of jobs are filled through networking. In fact, according to CNBC, 70% of jobs are never published publicly. These jobs are either posted internally or are created specifically for candidates that recruiters meet through networking. According to LinkedIn, 70% of professionals hired in 2016 had a connection at their company, and 80% of professionals consider networking vital to their career success. Even though these statistics are back in 2016, the COVID pandemic will have only made these numbers grow.

So if the facts don’t speak for themselves, then I don’t know what does.

Now you might be thinking “I get it, networking clearly works, but where do I start? I have never done this before…”. This brings us to some simple steps you can take.

Start your LinkedIn profile — ideally today!

LinkedIn has a pretty bad reputation lately for all the spamming and rubbish content on the platform. The reason for this (I believe) is because people have stopped using the platform authentically and have tried to apply the Instagram content framework to it. You are not going to do that, and you will use it for building a genuine network.

LinkedIn is basically the online networking hub. Think of any company in the world and I can guarantee the majority of their employees are on there displaying their job title, all with the ability to connect with them. It’s absolutely mind blowing to me that we have access to people this easily and many of us fail to see the opportunity, but that is what distinguishes us from the rest and maximises our opportunities.

Go to LinkedIn, sign up, and for now put a profile picture up that you believe a hiring manager would be happy to look at. Tidy your hair, get yourself a nice background (if you can) or use a background removal app and put your face in front of something nice (zoom style or something).

Example

Next, populate your profile very basically to start with (I will cover more in the future about building an authentic killer LinkedIn profile). You don’t need a Senior Google Software Engineer profile to start networking, just put enough detail down that doesn’t look like you are a bot or a fake profile.

Also, add a nice cover to your profile if you can. Think of the industry you want to work in and what you want to be known for, search pexels (stock image library) and add this to your profile too. For me at the moment, I want a bit of an Apple-esque vibe to my profile as I am keen to do some freelancing gigs for iOS or UI/UX in the future while still loving my day job, take a look!

Be authentic — take genuine interest!

Now, before you start connecting up with people, you need to make sure you realise one thing. You need to be genuine here. So many people spam on LinkedIn and ruin it for the rest of us. If you fail to really take time to compose a message or think about how your message could be interpreted before you send it off, your chances of building a genuine, supportive and authentic network will diminish.

When we write messages, we are treating the other person on the other side as a person, not as a tool to further our careers. Networking is a tool, people are not. People have a lot of insights, experience and support to give, so treat them with respect and care.

An example message you could write would be the following. Imagine I am wanting to network with someone at Apple for a job as a Machine Learning Engineer.

“Hey there Jake 👋, I’m Dewi — an engineer in the UK. I really like your profile, seems like you’ve had an exciting career so far! How is it all going? What made you go in to Machine Learning to start with? I’m really keen to network with people in this industry and from Apple too, so would love to connect with you if you have the time!”.

This message is genuine, I have taken time to ask Jake a question and find out more about him, whilst also making it clear of my intentions, 5 times out of 10, people respond, and some don’t, but don’t take it personally.

Take your time — networking is a long game

Finally a reminder. Networking is a long game. You will not build an authentic network over night, but you will over a life time. If you are a graduate, spend your time intentionally building your connection base on LinkedIn. I would argue that this should be your primary method of job searching over applying through Indeed and online.

Spend time building a strong connection base, ask questions, take genuine interest, add value with your contributions to discussions, and see what happens.

Networking is what got me my current job through building strong connections both at work and online. I got my current job through a referral which was not advertised. Trust me, it’s the way to go.

If you have found this content helpful, please give it a thumbs up, and share it with anyone that you think would get value from this.

See you next time.

Dewi.

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Autonomous Systems Engineer writing about life, work and providing opinion pieces on AI ethics, international affairs, technology and productivity.

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Dewi Madden

Dewi Madden

Autonomous Systems Engineer writing about life, work and providing opinion pieces on AI ethics, international affairs, technology and productivity.

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