One of the greatest soft skills you can learn as a professional is how to network with people in business. Yes, it helps to leverage industry specific skills, but the real catalyst to success starts with the soft skills. Networking is an essential and underrated soft skill that can be utilized in both personal and professional settings. Although networking may cause anxiety for some, once you do it, the rewards will follow. Regardless of your professional industry, be it Cybersecurity, Engineering, IO Psychology, Biotech, Health IT, or GIS, networking will help you leverage more success in your career.

What Does It Mean to Network with People?

Put quite simply, to network with people is to engage in mutually beneficial conversation that can lead to new connections, ideas, and resolutions. Defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, networking is “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions,” which often occurs in a professional or academic setting. Networking takes place at company conferences, in kitchen conversations, online, and virtually any place where two or more people can have a conversation.

What is the Value of Networking?

Learning how to network and successfully doing it gives you the following advantages:

  • An increase in useful knowledge that directly relates to you and/or your field
  • Possible future opportunities that you may not have otherwise had
  • A new perspective
  • New ways to solve recurring issues

Experts agree that the most connected people are often the most successful in the job force. In fact, author Carter Cast of The Right (and Wrong) Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made calls this time “the era of do-it-yourself career development.

In today’s world, you are in complete control of your personal development, further cementing the fact that networking is important. The more you connect, the more you know. The more you know, the further you’ll go.

This is true for academic settings, as well. Does the idea of networking with your professors intimidate you? What about this frightens you? If it does add some fear, remember that they are there to teach and help you. They want you to come to them and learn. And here’s the cool thing… as teachers get to know you, they’ll remember you. Since they are experts in their industry, it is important that they remember who you are.

How to Network with People

So, let’s get to the nitty-gritty here, which is to figure out some tips to help you network with people. Keep in mind that networking can happen in almost any setting and that there isn’t necessarily one “right” way to do it. However, there are key concepts to keep in mind when you want to expand your network.

Be Genuine

The first important tip is to be yourself. One meaningful conversation will take you further than ten shallow ones. The goal when you network with people in business is to make a good impression, one that is rooted in authenticity. So, aim to create real relationships and base them off of Forbes four areas of conversation to create shared value:

  • Listening
  • Reciprocity
  • Shared interests
  • Goals

Be Bold

Be confident in yourself and know that professional relationships are important. If you’re shy, you may have some insecurities about initiating conversations. The more practice you get, the more comfortable you’ll become. If you struggle with this, then start small. Create a small goal the next time you find yourself in an networking environment. This goal can be as simple as walking up to someone else who looks uncomfortable and offer a sincere compliment or acknowledgment of great tasting food. Or perhaps make it a point to ask one person an open-ended question about the industry. These questions often take on a fruitful result.

Stay Connected

It’s been proven that the longer you communicate with someone, the stronger the relationship is. You don’t need to reach out daily, just enough to keep in touch. Providing valuable information is a great way to extend the life of a professional relationship. Others will view you as a positive influencer with helpful ideas. You can also stay connected through social media. Platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are great tools for professional networking and sharing of information. In fact, come follow us on Twitter and Facebook and we can share ideas!

Use Your Resources

Some of the best relationships are built on established networks. For example, if a close friend of yours works at Northrop Grumman and you’re interested in their internship programs, it might be worthwhile to see if your friend can put you in contact with the coordinator. This same idea works in the classroom, too. Try to get to know your professors and invest in those relationships. After you graduate, reach out periodically.

Networking is not a “one size fits all” skill. In fact, there are various types of networking styles based on your personality and how comfortable you are talking to new people. Try taking this quiz to see which style works best for you.

Start to Network with People Today

Like with any new skill, the best way to establish it is to act on it. Go out there and test the waters. Do you fear it? Do it anyway. Sure, the first time you try to network with someone unfamiliar may be a little awkward and uncomfortable but that is okay! Networking, like most interpersonal skills, gets better the more you do it. As they say – practice makes perfect! So give it a try and see how many meaningful connections you can make. Don’t forget that networking is mutually beneficial,  so don’t feel bad reaching out to someone. Invest in yourself and your future!

Take Your Career a Step Further

Set yourself apart by adding to your professional credentials with an applied master’s degree. UMBC’s Office of Professional Programs offers a broad array of professionally-focused master’s degree and certificate programs that address industry needs while anticipating future opportunities. Connect with us today to get started.

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