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More Than Handshakes: What is Professional Networking?

Networking involves building and nurturing relationships with individuals in your industry or related fields. Learning how to network effectively is helpful for professional growth and success.

People discussing the value of professional networking

If you're in a job search, either for the first time or as a career changer, people will tell you to "go out and network." But what does that really mean?

What is the Meaning of Professional Networking?

Professional networking is a process by which you expand your knowledge and capability by interacting with other professionals in your career field. Think of networking simply as talking with people, getting to know them and letting them get to know you. 

Networking is all about building and maintaining professional relationships. If you're just starting out, build your network by talking with people you already know well, such as family and friends. Over time, you will continuously expand your networking circle through people you know and by meeting new people.

Dale Jacobs with the text Dale JacobsNurturing relationships with others can also help you with your career advancement. "As you talk with people you know or professionals in your career field, share information that will be of interest to them," said Dale Jacobs, a career advisor for social sciences programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). "As the relationship strengthens, let them know what your career interests are."

If you approach networking with the word “relationships” in mind, you’ll be more successful in building an effective network of professional connections.

Why is Professional Networking Important?

You can become more proficient in your job and industry through your relationships with other professionals, with whom you can consult when you encounter a gap in your own knowledge.

When you have a strong network, you'll also be in a better position to learn about new career opportunities. Based on the 2022 Jobvite Recruiter Nation survey, job seekers primarily discover job openings through various channels, including their network (Jobvite PDF Source):

  • Friends (46%)
  • Social media (39%) 
  • Professional connections (25%)

How to Network

Tori Chartrand with the text Tori Chartrand

"How do I network?" to some degree has the same answer as "How do I talk with someone?" You don't need to purchase any heavy equipment. First talk with people with whom you have a good relationship. Ask for them to refer you to people you can talk with on a professional basis.

It's important to build rapport before you ask for favors, as networking works best when trust and loyalty are developed. For example, when you first meet someone, don't ask that person for a job or to refer you to a hiring manager. Tori Chartrand, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs career advisor at SNHU, stresses the importance of the "law of reciprocity" in networking.

As you advance in your career and in your networking efforts, look for opportunities to be a resource for others by openly sharing information. "The more you put in, the more you'll get out of it," Chartrand said. "Add value to your professional network by making it mutually beneficial."

It's also important not to expect immediate results from professional networking. Trust is built over time.



Where Should I Network?

Although there are events specifically for networking, you can network in a grocery store or sitting in a doctor's waiting room. You might engage in networking in both formal and informal settings, in person or online.

Whether you're new to networking or an experienced professional, consider business groups and organizations such as Toastmasters and Business Network International (BNI) for your networking activities. Search online for your local chamber of commerce and attend events. Every career field has professional associations you can join or events you can attend as a non-member.

For online professional networking, you can make connections through a variety of social media, including X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram and Facebook. LinkedIn is recognized as the premier resource for expanding your network and advancing your career.

Using LinkedIn to Network 

LinkedIn offers a platform for you to highlight your qualifications, expertise and successes through your profile and enables you to connect with communities and organizations within the appropriate industries. Start by connecting with people you know personally and professionally, and continue to connect with people in your sector, possible employers and other professionals.

In addition to maintaining a thorough and well-structured LinkedIn profile that showcases your achievements and aspirations, it's important to regularly interact with fellow professionals, share insights related to your field and extend assistance when it feels appropriate. Exploring the platform could lead you to potential job opportunities, allow you to keep an eye on intriguing companies and help you stay updated on the latest developments within your industry.

With Whom Should I Network?

If you don't have a large, expansive network, begin by talking with friends and family members. You might find former co-workers who can help introduce you to people in their networks.

Think about whom you already know who would be willing to help you professionally. In his book, “From Chaos to Creativity and Careers: Create the Career Success You Deserve in a Turbulent Economy,” Dr. William H. Stone suggests that anybody you encounter might prove to be a good connection for you. 

“If you are uncertain if an individual might make a good networking contact, there is a simple test you can conduct: check for a pulse," he wrote. Stone makes the point if an individual you’re talking with knows one other person, they can help you.

When Should I Start Professional Networking?

Start today! In relation to job searching, begin networking when you're not in urgent need of a new job. Networking early and often enables you to build sustainable connections, so when you do seek new employment, you have a strong network to support you.

After you land a new job, don't stop networking. Networking is a lifelong activity. Some people think of networking as a job-search activity, but it's more than just a means to get a job. Keep networking to continue to grow in your position and industry.

To paraphrase Stone, as long as you have a pulse, continue to network.

Online. On campus. Choose your program from 200+ SNHU degrees that can take you where you want to go.

Rich GrantRich Grant has been a business career advisor with SNHU since 2014. He began his career at L.L. Bean and started in higher education in 2004, as an academic program director at the University of Maine. Grant earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business from the University of Southern Maine, and he now works remotely from southern Maine.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.