There is an old saying that goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Although we know better than to think that this bit of wisdom is always true, we can’t deny the importance of building and expanding our own professional networks. Networking, which author Andrew Hennigan defines as any “deliberate activity to build, reinforce, and maintain relationships of trust with other people to further your goals,” has proven to be an effective way to boost and even jumpstart one’s career. As an HR practitioner and leader, you can reap a host of benefits from your engagement in any networking activity, be it a huge annual gathering or a small online group discussion.
In survey conducted by LinkedIn last year among 15,905 of its members across 17 countries, networking emerged as a highly valued means to achieve career success. Among the survey’s key findings are the following.
- 79% of professionals agree that professional networking is important for career progression.
- 70% of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection.
- Nearly two-thirds or 61% of the respondents are positive that regular online interactions with their professional network can pave the way to possible job opportunities.
- More than one-third or 35% of professionals around the globe say that a casual conversation on LinkedIn as led to business partnerships and other opportunities.
Although these findings seem restricted to highlighting online networks, it should be emphasized that professional networks still grow outside the virtual realm, just as it did in the good old days. As Fryday says, “Professional networks can take place in any situation, venue, and platform or function both offline and online.” Industry conferences, seminars, forums, and meet-ups help you connect with other HR professionals as much as online communities do.
But regardless if it’s done the new or the old-fashioned way, and besides helping you land a better job or business opportunity, professional networking serves other greater purposes. Done well, it can make you an effective and sought-after business and industry leader. Here are the other unsung benefits of building and nurturing your professional networks as an HR practitioner and leader.
Develop your “executive presence”
Executive presence, as defined by Forbes, is “one’s ability to create a moment; an experience that ignites others to know more about you, your personal brand and your business.” It’s also about being an active listener, as well as being able to string together “patterns of conversation” to detect the other party’s “personal interest, leadership style, and business needs.” The goal is to have an “impactful, long-lasting presence” that moves your audience to “want to know more.”
Why should you care about your executive presence? As someone from HR, you’re expected to win the attention and respect of your organization’s employees. Much of your role depends on your ability to communicate, to lead. Investing in the development of your executive presence helps you ace the most essential aspects of your job. Speaking or simply actively participating in HR gatherings and discussions gives you a chance to contemplate on and articulate your ideas, beliefs, opinions about key HR topics and issues. It trains you to effectively share what you know and therefore helps you become a more charismatic leader.
Establish yourself as a “top-of-mind” expert in HR (and help fellow HR practitioners!)
At some point in your corporate journey, you’ll acquire the expertise and perspective of someone who can be called an “authority” in your chosen field, i.e. HR. You’ll want to reach out to a community of industry practitioners — i.e. one that’s outside your organization and circle of friends — to relay your thoughts and advocacies. You’ll feel the need to, in the words of Harvard Business Review, “reorient your network externally and towards the future.” It’s at this point in your career where the professional network you had built before or while you climbed the ranks would come in handy.
Partaking in professional networking activities enables you find and establish your audience, one that will recognize your expertise and share the things they will learn from you within their own networks. Beyond self-promotion, this means opening your doors to anyone who needs some mentorship and help, a rewarding experience that the genuinely passionate experts seek.
Stay updated on HR trends and management techniques
There are so many new HR and leadership practices you can learn more about by just talking to your fellow industry professionals and leaders. As Career Addict says, participating in professional networking activities puts you at the receiving end of novel approaches, methods, and ideas, which your company can adopt.
To get the most out of every networking environment you’re immersing yourself in, recruitment expert Allison Doyle suggests that you summon the full power of observation and think of networking opportunities as focus group discussions. Keep yourself engaged in what your fellow professionals are saying, but when faced with an overload of fresh ideas, approaches, and opinions, be mindful of what you can apply and what you can’t. Remember that what worked for others may not necessarily work for you and your company.
Networking, according to Doyle, is both an art and a science. It requires spontaneity, strategic planning, measurable approaches, and commitment all the same time. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just for the influential and the outspoken. In fact, Doyle says that networking is best done when you’re not thinking too much about the title or the power of the person you’re networking with — when all your efforts are focused on communicating with a person, not with a title. Also, it will hardly matter if communication isn’t your strongest suit. What’s important is you’re always ready to share something of value, be it an idea or experience, once you’re given the turn to speak.
Now the question that remains is: Given the demanding nature of your role as an HR professional, will you still have time to engage in professional networking activities? Before you give an answer, consider two things: (1) the benefits of networking that we just talked about, and the things you can delegate — or entrust to technology — in order to have time to take your HR career up a notch.