8 Networking Skills to Develop That Will Grow Your Network and Career

With so many different ways to network today, it’s hard to know where to start and even if you should network. Learn what is networking, why it’s important, and how to develop your networking skill set.

Networking can be accomplished with anyone, anywhere—events, conferences, the gym, on a mountain, you name it. (I once worked with someone who was known for bringing in top employees from all over, including people he met on the ski slopes!)

Why do people network?

People network to help grow their personal and business relationships. When it comes to networking, people are everything. Vinod Khosla is known for saying, “The team you build is the company you build.” While that’s true for companies, it’s just as true in every other aspect of your life. Think about any major decision you made recently. You probably leaned on people you know to help you think through the decision. They may have even helped you get what you wanted in a way you couldn’t have done alone. Humans are social by nature, and that means relationships are core to everything you do, even just having fun. 

You may think that because humans are social by nature, we don’t need to develop networking skills. But that’s not true. Without networking skills, you’ll likely end up on one of two ends. You may be a passive participant in your life, where the only relationships you have are the ones that others have decided they want to have with you. You may also be that person we all know who only talks to you when they want something from you, and perhaps that’s to join their next multi-level marketing scheme or maybe buy their non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

What is networking?

Networking is about making and maintaining relationships, and it's important to learn how to network online and offline. Networking requires new skills because we’re not used to maintaining more relationships than we have in our core tribe. This is often known as Dunbar’s number, which suggests we can only maintain roughly 150 relationships. We reach that number pretty quickly when you think about everyone you know from the neighborhood you grew up in, went to school with, and the past couple jobs you’ve had. In addition to the 150 person limit, many of us grow up learning that we shouldn’t talk to people we don’t know. So, we shy away from increasing the number of people we know, our network.

Why is networking important?

Networking will help every aspect of your professional career. Learning to connect with other people in the industry or colleagues within your own company will help you do your current job better. You’ll be able to jump on industry trends early. You’ll be able to leverage the learnings of others, and you’ll be able to get work done more effectively when you’ve built relationships with people you currently work with. Networking is also an essential tool for jobseekers. All those connections you’ve created throughout your industry will be able to help with introductions to their connections at companies you’re interested in or help you land at their own company. 

Two professional women networking.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

How do you develop networking skills?

It's important to learn how to network at conferences and events. The art of networking is a skill that develops over time and—like all skills—it requires deliberate practice. This means you start with a clear understanding of the components required to be great at that skill, you take time to practice those specifically, you are aware of which skills you’re weak on, and then focus on specifically improving those areas. Then you practice regularly over time. Doing this will help you develop a strong networking skillset that will allow you to make a great first impression and will establish meaningful business and personal connections.

Whether you’re looking to develop new skills or improve your current skill set, here are eight components to focus on in your deliberate networking practice to help you grow your network and your career. 

The 8 most helpful tips to grow your network 

1) Be truly interested in the other person.

In a world where you can play short-term or long-term games, networking only works as a long-term game. That starts with truly being interested in the other person. Every person you meet has something truly great and interesting about them. If you need some inspiration yourself, check out Humans of New York. See it as your goal to find out one thing about the person you meet. 

2) Come prepared with conversation starters.

It’s important to ask questions to demonstrate that you’re interested in the person with whom you’re meeting. If you’re someone who struggles with coming up with conversation topics or networking icebreaker questions on the spot, having a mental list of questions or topics you can bring up is a great hack. When I meet someone for the first time, this is how I typically go about the conversation:

1) Does the person have any interesting hobbies?

2) Is there anything about the person that stands out that is appropriate to bring up? Perhaps something about an awesome piece of clothing they're wearing, a tattoo, or maybe even their dog (pets are always great icebreakers!). There’s potentially a deeper story there that highlights something they are passionate about.

3) If they’re not responding, I’ll tend to change the subject until we arrive at something that truly excites them.

Be vulnerable about yourself, people don’t like to have one-sided conversations, and most people don’t want to open up to people they aren’t comfortable with themselves.

3) It’s about the other person first. How can you help them?

As you learn from and about the other person, look for how you can help them. That may be as simple as listening to them, but even if it is, try to go beyond that. If you discover they’re passionate about something, share any insights you may have. For example, maybe they’re really into designing floral arrangements and you heard about a great way to buy floral arrangement kits online. Share that with them. Even better, maybe you know someone interested in the same thing. Offer to connect them, if the other side is open to it too. The intro may be related to their hobby, it may be providing a helpful business connection to them, or it may be something as simple as connecting them to a great plumber. One of my favorite questions is to ask people what interesting problem or puzzle they’re currently working through is. It’s light enough that you’re not going to get into anything inappropriately personal but interesting enough that you’ll usually find a way to help them out. 

4) Give them your digital business card.

Now that you know how you can help that other person, you need a way to provide that help. Whether it’s sending an intro over to them, or following up later with some interesting links. So, now it’s time to give them your digital business card so that you can follow up on your commitment to helping them. I recommend HiHello—HiHello is both a mobile and web-based app that allows you to make and send digital business cards.

Sharing your business card is simple. First, take out your phone and open the HiHello app. From there the other person can simply scan the QR code with the camera app on their phone and they’ll have your digital business card. (They don’t need any additional apps on their phone to receive your card.) After they have your information they’ll have the opportunity to send their information back to you. Or, they can simply give you their paper business card and you can scan it into your contacts using the HiHello’s business card scanner

HiHello digital business card.

5) Take notes.

Now you know what makes that person great, and you have a way to help them. Take notes. I recommend doing this directly in their contact information on the HiHello app. You can add notes directly to your new contact, and they’re completely private to you. Make sure you note down what you learned about that person, anything you planned on following up with, and ways you could potentially help in the future. Once you do that, then asking for help from them in the future will be simple and the person will likely be more than happy to help someone who has worked hard to make sure they helped them first. 

Contact notes HiHello digital business card app.

6) Follow up with them.

In times when you don’t need their help, make sure you still drop them a note and keep in touch. How do you keep in touch? Check the notes you made to remember things that were important to them. Maybe they mentioned a favorite sports team in the conversation. When you see how that team is doing, drop them a note about a surprising win or a close but disappointing loss. 

HiHello will even help you with this. Shortly after you share your business card with that person, we’ll suggest they share their information back with you. Once they do that you’ll be able to respond directly to the email from HiHello to stay connected with them. 

Follow up with HiHello digital business card networking app.

7) Ask.

You’ll eventually want help from people in your network. When you do, the easiest thing is to just ask. Often, the most difficult part of this is the story you tell yourself. If you’ve kept in touch with people and helped them before, this will be easy. Having helped them, you’ll expect you can rely on them and can be direct and simply ask for what you need. If you haven’t you’ll need to avoid some of the common mistakes people make. 

1) Don’t pretend that you’re staying in touch only to try to later turn it into an ask

2) Don’t bring up any favors you did (or didn’t) do.

3) Make the ask, even if you forgot to stay in touch. Sometimes asking for help is a good way to restart a relationship. 

You may want to still hear about how the other person is doing and get an update from them. I always prefer to do that after I’ve made my ask. The reason for this is that it feels and is more genuine when it comes second. If you try to be interested in them before you make your ask, you’ll be focused on how you can weave your ask into the conversation, and whenever you do the other person may feel your interest was just an excuse to get to the ask (it probably was!) Going second, you can take as much time as you need to learn what’s new with this person, and hear about any updates. I just recently connected with an old friend and colleague where I needed to get their advice on something. They graciously accepted, even though we hadn’t talked in a couple of years. My ask took about 15 minutes of the conversation, then we were able to spend the next 30 minutes just talking about how things were going for them, and I even left with the opportunity to make two introductions for that person and give some advice back. None of that would have happened if we started with a “catch up” as a way to sneak in my ask. 

8) Go beyond your industry

Finally, when networking, don’t limit yourself to your industry alone—connecting with a variety of different people is key to having a powerful network. You’ll be able to help people in more ways. Instead of simply making in-industry introductions, you could help them find tickets to important sporting events, navigate a new city or country, or even find someone to fix their drywall. Having diversity in your network will allow you to seize opportunities others cannot.

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The main photo for this blog post is from LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash.