Networking skills

Expert advice on networking and how it can significantly aid your career development.

A graphic showing people networking in front of an illustration of the globe Networking, put simply, is meeting informally with others who have common interests that could potentially benefit your business or personal needs.

Why is networking important?

Networking is a key soft skill. Many individuals have attributed their personal and business success on their ability to network. Networking and the development of good contacts can generate a variety of opportunities.

Whether you are actively looking for a new position or researching markets and companies you are interested in working for, networking can be the key to those job opportunities that never get advertised. It can also be used to secure new business and find out the latest industry manoeuvres and top level thinking making it a desirable skill to have.

Building a network

One approach is to make contact with present and past colleagues, former managers, fellow students and other acquaintances in your relevant sector or profession. Also make the most of IET networks such as Local and Technical and Professional Networks. These can help you to gain advice on your areas of interest and discuss the state of the industry and profession. It can also be used to secure new business and find out the latest industry events and interest groups directly or via your contacts.

Many of today's senior managers and directors spend time attending networking events and are members of clubs and associations in order to network with fellow peers and potential prospects.

Networking tips

When networking in a business environment it is important to:

  • Keep a list of valuable contacts - It is important once you begin to build your book of contacts, you stay in touch with them on a regular basis. One simple way to do this could be to send email updates on your progress with the projects they have contributed to;
  • Use email to establish contact - Email makes networking easy and simple to conduct because it is unobtrusive. However, a more useful approach may be to combine face-to-face interaction and phone calls. This will allow you to develop a strong personal relationship with your contact;
  • Try to pass leads to top people so that they reciprocate - the key to successful networking is giving and receiving information. This will make your contact value you and remind them to provide you with information with opportunities when they arise;
  • Keep an open mind - someone you thought you did not have much in common with could be a great networker and surprise you with how helpful they can be. Think about networks you already have access to. They could be potential avenues for building useful contacts including your student alumni and family and friends;
  • Be careful how you express your opinion of others - networking is built on the foundations of good personal relationships with peers. However, if this does not work out it is important to draw a line under the experience. Becoming negative with others about a former contact could work against you in the future;
  • Spend time maintaining contact - the art of successful networking is based on personal contact, sharing information and building trust. The best way to achieve this is to keep the contact yourself. Relying on others may be viewed negatively and your contact may chose to network with someone else who can devote more personal time.

Further networking advice

Even if you have not had much business experience, you will be surprised by how much of a personal network you already have. Make sure you have a specific reason before making contact with former acquaintances and be specific as to why you are writing, emailing or calling.

Create a database in which you can capture contacts’ details, company information and interest areas. You can use this system to note any follow-up actions that you or your contacts agree upon and also to develop and nurture your network. 

You can also cross-reference those that you have met at conferences, local network meetings or those who might specifically help you in your career to enable you to manage these contacts. You will be building a valuable network that could be useful to your other contacts, so remember to help others whenever you can.

Networking can be an enjoyable activity even though every contact may not be productive. Some people find it more difficult than others. It can be tough to move easily amongst strangers, but like many things it does become easier once you have tried it a few times. Remember to be a good listener and not a loud talker, it is often through listening to others that we are able to discover what we need to know and who is in the best position to assist us.