How networking can advance your career

Article by Fiona Jones, Community Manager at Zero Gravity

‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ – an overused cliche in the world of work, but possibly for good reason. It’s pretty widely accepted that careers advance with the aid of networking, and for people who grew up in an environment surrounded by professionals, networking may come easy.

Whether it’s a good word from your uncle at the finance firm you want to intern with, an intro from your mum to her legal practice partners, or simply the knowledge that your peers at school will mature into useful professional contacts you can call on in the future; the network around you will have an impact on your future employment and progression.

Even just the knowledge that these jobs or other opportunities exist and are available to you, is a huge advantage to individuals pursuing a successful career. If you don’t have any professional influences in your life, how do you know the difference between an Operations Executive and a Strategy Consultant? How do you know what goes on at a management consultancy or a financial services firm? How do you know what opportunities are available at different companies that can aid your progression? The difference between those who know what’s out there and how to access these opportunities throughout their career, and those who don’t, puts people on an uneven playing field from day one.

But what is networking, really?

So how can we make sure anyone who’s interested in a successful career has the same access to networking and the major benefits it brings?

I think the answer is to rethink what networking really is. Rather than thinking of networking as just drinks at a corporate event, or asking your existing friends and family to put you in touch with someone, think about what it is you want to gain from networking.

The advantages of building a network boil down to; democratising information, (which jobs or other avenues to develop my career are out there? Which excite me the most? How do I access them? What do I need to do to get to where I want to go?); building genuine connections who are willing and able to help you out; and growing in confidence.

How can you access these advantages without the traditional network effect?

I may be biased in my role as a Community Manager, but I believe the answer is building communities. If the conventional path doesn’t work for you, rebuild it.

My job at Zero Gravity is to create a digital space where talented, low-opportunity students from schools and universities across the UK can come together to share their knowledge, learnings, and experiences. In this community, I see the results of an organic network every day, and it works! I’ll see someone share a link to a summer programme for STEM students, and a month later someone else will post that they got a spot on that very programme they’d not heard of before. Someone will ask a question to a webinar host and share a week later that they’ve connected on LinkedIn and have secured a week of work experience.

There are so many ways to be part of a community, even if you feel like you’re starting from scratch.

As a young professional myself, I’m part of communities for women in tech and young professionals in start-ups and reap the rewards almost daily. Some examples include The Copy Club (great for those in marketing or branding at smaller companies), Continuous Discovery Habits (for those in Product Roles), Ladies Get Paid (for professional advancement), Female Invest (for those interested in personal finance), and Female Founder Collective (for entrepreneurs).

I wouldn’t have the career I have today without these communities. Through them, I’ve been able to learn answers to difficult questions from those who have faced similar challenges to me, and have found mentors who have guided me through career changes and obstacles I’ve faced.

There are also so many more communities out there for all types of careers and industries. If you talk about areas you’re really passionate about on platforms like LinkedIn, you’ll start making connections and discovering communities relevant to you. You can also ask people who are in roles or industries you aspire to about where they find inspiration and if there are any groups that have helped them get to where they are today. This can also be through a manager or mentor, or if you do any courses or certifications to aid your professional development, make connections and ask the people you meet there.

Another valuable asset for someone who wants to advance their career is mentoring, and talented mentors can be found all over. Within these online communities you can find people in your field that would make for great mentors. Or connect with someone on LinkedIn who has a job you want to have – the worst thing that can happen is not getting a reply!

In summary, while there’s no question that networking will accelerate your career growth when done well, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to successful networking. Realistically, focus on building genuine connections with people who are willing and able to help you (and vice versa), and you’re acing the networking game.

Fiona JonesAbout the author

Fiona Jones is the Community Manager at Zero Gravity, the UK’s first ever tech-driven business solution to social mobility, which powers high-talent students from low-opportunity areas into top universities and world-class careers. Building a product that centres community and networks at its core is what Fiona does in her everyday role, fuelling her passion to create access to opportunities for those who deserve it most.

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