“It’s not what you know — it’s who you know.”
This bit of wisdom is one of the most commonly quoted pieces of career advice — but is it true? Make no mistake: what you know is important. Your education, experience, and expertise all matter when it comes to your professional development. However, there is some truth to the idea that who you know — your professional network — has a significant impact on the opportunities you have access to throughout your career.
Building a strong professional network is important whether you’re early in your career or approaching retirement, and whether you’re contentedly employed or looking for a change. Here are three ways to approach networking, and why these strategies should be a priority:
Build Relationships at Work
It may seem obvious, but your most important professional relationships are those with your coworkers. Take the time to get to know the people you work with, including peers, support staff, subcontractors, and managers. Take note of the people who are doing great work at every level of your company and find ways to learn from what makes them excellent.
Building relationships at work can create a positive atmosphere and improve employee morale and engagement. It can also provide opportunities for you to learn and develop in your career; there is always something you can learn from others, whether they’re an expert in a particular software or technical skill you’re not familiar with, or they have great leadership or communication skills that you want to develop. Finally, if you decide to pursue a new career change, you can call on these people for references — and you can offer to serve as a reference for them when they’re in need. The better your relationships are at work, the better your experience at work will be and the more opportunities you could have in the future.
Take Calls From Recruiters
It’s a common misunderstanding that a recruiter is only beneficial when you’re on the hunt for a new job. Certainly, if you’re considering a career change, a reputable recruiter can be an invaluable resource. But even if you’re not, having a phone conversation and establishing a relationship can benefit you in the long run. For example, if a recruiter calls to discuss an opening and you’re not interested, you have no obligation to pursue it; however, you might know someone else who is looking for a role like the one they’re describing. Word of mouth and referrals are the most common ways that candidates land jobs, so consider whether you can pass on a name and help someone else move forward in their careers, even if you’re very happy where you are.
Establishing a positive relationship with a recruiter also creates options for the future, if a time comes when you decide you are ready for a new challenge.
Attend Networking Events
From national and regional conferences to smaller local meet-ups, networking events give you numerous chances to develop your professional skill set and meet influential people within your industry. For example, if you want to develop your public speaking skills or grow your personal or company brand, you might consider presenting at a conference or leading a workshop. You can also attend workshops and lectures to develop technical or soft skills that can help you in your career. Finally, you can meet other professionals in your industry who might be able to offer valuable market insights or career advice.
Opportunities come when you position yourself at the right place at the right time. No one has a crystal ball to know when the “right time” is going to be, but networking with and being open to conversations with recruiters and other industry professionals allows you to be presented with more opportunities to evaluate and compare against your current professional situation.