Networking involves interacting with people to develop contacts and build relationships that will help you further your career. Although many professionals focus on networking outside the office, networking within your current organization is also extremely important. Networking outside the office can help a professional attract new clients, search out new opportunities, learn new things or best practices used outside his or her organization, and develop a support network that he or she can fall back on. On the other hand, networking in the office allows managers to build good working relationships with people who can directly help them do their jobs.1 As well, professionals who have strong networks within their office are often leaders who use their networks to bridge organizational silos and make work more collaborative and effective.2
According to William C. Byman, the chairman and CEO of the global management consulting firm Development Dimensions International, forging a network within the first 30 to 60 days after beginning a new job or promotion is critical as members of the organization glean their first impression of you. This involves three steps: (1) figuring who should be in your network, (2) taking the initiative to introduce yourself and (3) remembering that networking is not a one-way street – reciprocate by sharing useful information, and remember that horizontal relationships are just as critical as vertical ones.
Outside of the office, conferences, trade-shows, networking events, customers and clients, friends, family, neighbors etc. all provide ample opportunity for networking. This type of networking involves identifying potential relationships, communication skills, and finding opportunities to follow up with contacts. Nierenberg gives seven rules of networking to live by (1) smile, (2) look the person in the eye, (3) listen, (4) pay attention to body language, (5) avoid being pushy, (6) give genuine compliments and (7) treasure other’s business cards. She also suggests following up with contacts regularly. This can include sending notes when you hear or read something good about someone, when you find relevant or exclusive information or articles you can pass along, or when you can give a heads up for events or new products or services that may come up. Networking, she says, has a bad reputation because people do it to collect names. Done correctly, networking is about developing relationships that are mutually beneficial.3
1. Ibarra, H., and Hunter, M. (2007). How Leaders Create and Use Networks. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), 40-47.
2. Hansen, M. T. (2009). Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Build Common Ground, and Reap Big Results. Harvard Business School Publishing: Boston.
3. Nierenberg, A. (2002). Nonstop Networking: How to Improve Your Life, Luck and Career. Capital Books: Washington, DC.