The best careers are built around the best networks. Great connections can provide you with learning opportunities, promotional opportunities, jobs, and more. The wrong connections, on the other hand, can drag your career down to their level of mediocrity. This makes it essential to develop strong networking skills so you can build the right network for your career.
In this guide, we will explore the most essential networking skills to develop for a successful career. We’ll also take a look at how you can develop each of these skills. If you need practical, step-by-step guidelines, you’re in the right place!
Essential networking skills for every professional:
1. A focus on building genuine, long-term friendships
The first thing you need to do is shift your mindset to focus on people, not opportunities. People can tell when you’re only approaching them for your own personal gain. You might get the specific thing you wanted, but they will remember your self-centeredness and be less likely to pass future opportunities on to you.
There are two key strategies you can use to develop this mindset:
Live in the moment. When you’re at a networking event, focus on being fully present. If you catch yourself thinking about future opportunities, notice the thought, then release it and shift your focus to what is happening around you. Practice doing this in your day-to-day life so it’s easier during networking events. You can also become better at this by developing a mindfulness meditation practice.
Create opportunities to learn about people outside of work. Ask people about their families, their homes, their hobbies. People love to talk about themselves, and experts love to talk about things other than their professional expertise. As you learn more about them, you will also find it easier to see people as more than the opportunities they provide—and that is when you create space for meaningful connections.
2. Active listening
Active listening is the act of fully concentrating on what another person is saying. This helps you retain information and fully participate in complex discussions. Active listening also shows people that you value their opinions and expertise.
The key here is to practice active listening all of the time, not just during conversations about work. Pay the same amount of attention to people’s stories about their personal lives as you do to their professional insights.
This shows them that you see them as people, not opportunities. You might also learn something interesting or find shared interests that can serve to deepen your relationships.
The practice of active listening can be broken down into five steps:
- Pay attention. Look directly at the speaker, release distracting thoughts, pay attention to body language, and resist the impulse to prepare your response while the other person is still speaking.
- Show that you’re listening. Acknowledge the other person with nodding, facial expressions, and the occasional “yes” or “uh-huh”.
- Provide feedback. Reflect on what the person has said and summarize what you believe they meant.
- Defer judgment. Consciously push away your default assumptions. Wait until the other person has finished speaking before you form judgments. Don’t interrupt with rebuttals.
- Respond appropriately. Be honest, respectful, and open.
3. The ability to frame things in a positive way
Language has a huge impact on how we see the world. Therefore, it stands to reason that the language you use will influence how people perceive you. If you constantly use negative words and phrases, people will think of you as a negative, possibly even defeatist person. On the other hand, if you use positive language, people will see you as a positive person, always ready to tackle new challenges.
The use of positive language is particularly important in text communication, where you don’t have body language to help convey emotions. For example, take a look at these two sentences:
“I recently discovered your work in the WordPress sphere and am writing to invite you to participate in an interview on my podcast.”
“I am a huge fan of your work, and I would love to have you on my podcast to discuss WordPress.”
Both of these sentences convey your intentions, but only the second one really conveys your enthusiasm. And that enthusiasm is what makes people want to respond. Whenever possible, use overtly positive language to display that enthusiasm.
4. The ability to focus on others’ needs before your own
One of the most effective ways to build strong connections is to do something meaningful for the people you want to connect with. This requires you to step outside of yourself and focus on what the other person needs.
So how can you figure out what someone else needs, even before you meet them? Use one of these strategies:
Pay attention. Follow the person on Instagram and Facebook. Subscribe to their blog, podcast, or YouTube channel. When influential people need something, they often turn to these channels first in the hopes of getting their needs met by someone in their fan base. This can provide the perfect opportunity for you to reach out with an offering.
Research. Is there something this person has always wanted to do or see that you can help them with? Do they often do a certain type of collaboration? Is there some way you can help them improve their online presence? Something you can do for their business?
Remember their humanity. Everyone has the same basic needs. Food, water, sleep, socialization. Look for ways to help people meet these needs. This is particularly powerful at physical events, where you can offer to get a person a drink or bring them snacks.
Confidence can benefit every area of your life, but it has a particularly powerful impact on your networking efforts. If you are offering something to someone, you need to demonstrate confidence in your ability to provide that something. Even if all you’re doing is introducing yourself, people want to see that you are confident in who you are and what you do.
Unfortunately, for many of us confidence is also one of the most difficult networking skills to develop. This might be due to struggles with impostor syndrome or an inability to forget when colleagues or previous employers have put us down. You can, however, build confidence through the intentional use of these strategies:
Use affirmations. These are positive phrases about yourself, such as “I am good at my job”. You can say them out loud or write them down. Repeat your affirmations every day, either in the morning or before bed.
Care for your physical appearance. Even when you’re working from home, take the time to shower, wash your hair, and wear something professional. You want to be able to look in the mirror and say “now there’s somebody who is prepared to do a great job!”
6. The ability to cope well with feedback and rejection
This could be considered an aspect of confidence, but it is important enough to discuss on its own. Negative feedback and rejection are inevitable side effects of putting yourself out there. You need to be able to respond professionally and move on to the next opportunity.
This skill can’t be learned from a textbook or a blog post, but there are some things you can do to make dealing with feedback and rejection easier:
Prepare a standard response. Create a stock phrase, like “Thank you for noticing, I will consider your points in the future”. You can then turn to this phrase any time feedback or rejection leaves you feeling flustered. This allows you to respond professionally even if the comment does hurt emotionally.
Separate yourself from your work. Many people fall into the trap of thinking that their productivity and their worth are the same thing. To be able to accept professional rejection, you need to create some separation between yourself and your work. This can be done by enforcing strict boundaries between your work and your home life and pursuing creative hobbies outside of work.
Networking should be a constant part of your life, not something you only do when you are actively looking for professional opportunities. In fact, your focus should be on building a network before you need a professional opportunity.
The good news is that there are regular events for professionals in almost every industry. The best events are often held in person, but there are also many events held online. Find two or three events you can attend every single month and make them permanent dates in your calendar.
Another good way to build networking into your schedule is to block off some time each week for reaching out on social media. The key here is that you must use this time on social media to reach out to specific people. Comment on their posts, share their content, maybe even send them a private message to ask about something they’ve created. Limit yourself to these interactions so you’re not wasting time.
Finally, you want to make sure that you set aside time to strengthen old relationships. Once a month or even once a week, get together with colleagues on a conference call or over lunch. Reach out to say happy birthday or wish folks well over the holidays. Remind people that you exist.
8. Interviewing skills
Interview skills are great networking skills for two reasons. First, a series of interviews is a great way to expand your network. Second, many interview skills can be helpful in any social situation, not just during interviews. For example, the skill of active listening is essential to conducting good interviews, and it is also one of the best networking skills you can develop.
Some other interviewing skills that double as networking skills are:
- The ability to thoroughly research interview subjects
- Body language management
- Professional speaking patterns
The best way to develop these skills is to practice. Run a series of interviews on a blog, podcast platform, or YouTube channel. Start with people you already know to build confidence, then reach out to people you admire.
9. Email etiquette
Regardless of how you meet people in your network, communications will eventually turn to email. You want to make sure your emails look professional and express any information you share in the correct way.
Email etiquette varies from one industry to the next, but there are some basic rules you should always follow:
- Use a clear, direct subject line
- Use a professional email address
- Use positive, professional language
- Proofread everything
- If you’re unsure of the exact meaning of a word, look it up before you include it
- Resist the urge to use emojis
- Only use “Reply All” if it is absolutely necessary
- Use BCC to protect others’ privacy where appropriate
- Mention any attachments, and the purpose of said attachments, within the body of the email
You also want to let your connections set the tone of your communications. If a colleague uses less formal speech in their responses, you have the option to also use less formal language.
10. A solid elevator pitch
An elevator pitch is a short pitch, one that you would be able to deliver in the time it takes to share an elevator ride with someone. In other words, this is one or two sentences that you can use to get people interested in what you do.
The key to writing a good elevator pitch is to focus on the emotional core of what you do, not the functional details. You can see how this works when you compare these potential pitches for my freelance business:
“I am a freelance SEO writer and consultant who specializes in working with WordPress-based blogs.”
“I write content that ranks well on Google and converts readers into customers.”
The second pitch doesn’t mention anything about WordPress or consulting, but it conveys a higher level of confidence in my work. This pitch also reminds people why they need an SEO writer: to improve their website’s ranking on Google. And it’s shorter than the first pitch, making it easier to deliver in a rush.
Your elevator pitch is something that will develop over time. Experiment with different phrases and ask for feedback on your pitch from trusted colleagues. Like most of the networking skills we’ve discussed, there is always room to improve your elevator pitch.
Networking can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. You can make it much easier by developing the following networking skills:
- ✅ A focus on genuine, long-term relationships
- ✅ Active listening
- ✅ The ability to frame things in a positive way
- ✅ The ability to focus on others’ needs before your own
- ✅ Confidence
- ✅ The ability to cope well with feedback and rejection
- ✅ Consistency
- ✅ Interviewing skills
- ✅ Email etiquette
- ✅ A solid elevator pitch
With these networking skills in place, you are sure to build the kind of network that will in turn help you build a great career!
What is the one networking skill that’s key in your portfolio? Feel free to share in the comments below.
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