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What is Professional Networking and Why is it Important?

Sep 20, 2016 Posted by Anders Östlund
Professional networking is focused on interactions and relationships of a business nature rather than including personal, non-business interactions. Professional networking can take place in any situation, venue and platform or function both offline and online but there are many platforms and forums specialized on professional networking.

The outcome from professional networking can be:

  • Job offers
  • Additional sales
  • Access to talent for recruitment
  • Offers as speaker, trainer etc for a fee or for free as further promotion
  • Insights into how things ‘really work’ inside other organizations or fields of business.
  • Higher social status and access to social events inside and outside the business sphere.

“Networking is a deliberate activity to build, reinforce and maintain relationships of trust with other people to further your goals. Professional networking is simply networking focused on professional goals.” - Andrew Hennigan, Networking speaker, trainer, coach. Author of "Payforward Networking".

A very important part of professional networking is that it is about building relationships and trust, not just swapping business cards. For successful networking to take place a real relationship needs to be built.

Some examples of reasons people engage in Professional Networking include:

  • To gain access to information and tacit knowledge
  • To be perceived as the ‘top-of-mind’ expert in a field of business
  • To establish new professional relationships and to strengthen existing relationships.
  • To increase others trust in you and your trust in others.
  • To have a good time. Let’s be honest, this is an important reason too
  • To make sure other people know who you are, what you do, how you do it and what you want to achieve by doing it
  • Self promotion, the establishment of oneself as an authority

Networking is about real relationships and real trust, something that is very hard to establish in an online only connection.

Having a network is not good enough; you need to continue to do networking to ensure your network doesn’t decline. 

"Nardi, Whittaker and Schwarz (2002) point at three main tasks that they believe networkers need to attend in order to keep a successful professional (intentional) network: building a network, maintaining the network and activating selected contacts. They stress that networkers need to continue to add new contacts to their network in order to access as many resources as possible, and to maintain their network through staying in touch with their contacts. This is so that the contacts are easy to activate when the networker has work that needs to be done."
- Source: "Nardi, Whittaker and Schwarz (2002)

"Networks deliver three unique advantages: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power. Executives see these advantages at work every day, but might not pause to consider how their networks regulate them," Uzzi and Dunlap argue. They show in their research how developing diverse, rather than "self-similar" network contacts through shared high-stakes activities builds a more powerful network.

Deborah Mills-Scofield, writing in the Harvard Business Review argues that networking has existed for the past 2000 years and it has enabled our survival. She postulates that networks promote new forms of communication, spread knowledge and therefore our networks need to be cultivated and treated well.