Networking is one of those terms that everyone is talking about being a good thing to do, but most people being unsure about how to actually do it.

Does networking work?

Yes, it does. The more people who know and like you, the greater the chance that they’ll think of you when they hear something, and that they’ll offer advice that benefits your career. That ‘lucky break’ is often down to knowing the right person.

Is networking hard?

Not really. There are usually lots of networking events that you can attend. Chambers of Commerce in most places hold regular events. There are organizations that have been set up to offer opportunities for networking. These are formal events and can be quite daunting for someone not practiced or confident at promoting themselves. If this perception of networking is putting you off, you can be reassured that there is an easier, low key way to get started.

Here’s how to do it.

Make a list of everyone you know

How’s that for a step one. You don’t even have to talk to another person. Start by writing down everybody you consider part of your network. The best way is to do this in groups. Perhaps good LinkedIn contacts (people you’ve  messaged), current colleagues, past colleagues, friends, friends-of-friends, even neighbours.

You never know where your next bit of information will come from. This is why you want to be open to all your connections

Ask them a specific question

Now I want you to put in some thought. What is it that you want out of your career next? For example, do you need work experience? To volunteer in order to change your career? A new job? The chance to present at a meeting, perhaps?

Once you know what you want, you can ask the right people for information or advice on how to go about it. The important thing is to be clear and explain yourself.

Don’t say:

I’m looking for a new job – do you know of any openings?

Instead say:

I want to apply for Administrator positions in Randburg and I’m doing up my CV. Would you be happy to take a look at it? I think it covers everything well but any advice you could give would be great.

You can’t ask someone else to do the legwork of making your next breakthrough happen. But you can make them aware of your aspirations, your commitment to it (in what you’re doing by yourself) and ask them to share their specific expertise.

Interact with people online

This is face-to-face networking’s more modern, less stressful version. Think Facebook groups, LinkedIn, and your professional memberships – anywhere that’s professional and related to your career field. Comment on other people’s posts, reply to questions – be brave and ask questions yourself. Aim to do 10 minutes of this every day. People will get to know you. The aim is to make a name for yourself by adding value to conversations. Share your knowledge, be interested in others, and supportive of their content.

Create and publish content

This isn’t as intimidating as it sounds, and it gets better the more practice you have. Choose a topic you know a bit about (if you’re an accountant, it could be something your clients regularly ask you about, for example) and write an informative article. Make it reader-friendly, don’t use jargon, and inject a bit of your natural voice or humour into your writing. Publish it on LinkedIn or even start a blog. This is a great thing to put on your CV (but you have to commit to a blog and do it regularly) but also to show your level of expertise, dedication to your field, and another way to get your name out there.

Target firms you’d like to work for

Finally, think about firms you might like to work for, and use LinkedIn to find and follow relevant managers and employees. Engage on their posts if they have them. The idea is to build a relationship naturally, being a name that pops up regularly with valuable input. This lays the groundwork for the future, when you might either apply for a job there, or ask them for advice.

There you have it – five things that anyone can do to start networking and do it effectively. Start with whatever makes you most comfortable and work at it. The most important thing you have to do is to be persistent and consistent. Keep doing the right things, don’t expect results immediately, and watch how the network of people who know, like and respect you grows.