Most of the time, if someone walks into a room and in a sea of faces sees someone they know, even vaguely, they'll gravitate toward the familiar face.
That's often what happens when someone has a job opening to fill. When there's a pile of resumes, the person doing the hiring at least looks at the ones where they either know the person or someone they know has given them a heads up.
It's human nature, and while having a connection to the person in charge of hiring does not guarantee anything, it can certainly help. Networking can make your career, and it can save you when you're a good candidate for a job whose qualifications aren't quite that obvious.
How do you network?
Networking sounds scary, but it's really just building and maintaining connections. There are two main ways to build your network, with the first being easier than the second.
The beginning of networking is simply making an effort to keep in touch with the people you actually know. That includes everyone from former coworkers to business associates, and even people you meet in a social setting. In many cases social media can help with this, but it's not enough to be connected with someone on a social platform. You need to keep the contact warm by interacting with them.
This sounds obvious and easy, but when I look through my Facebook and LinkedIn connections there are more than a few names I don't recognize. In some cases those are people who I once knew where I may be able to warm up the connection; but in other cases, it's opportunity lost.
The second type of networking involves making a concerted effort to meet new people. That's not easy for many people, but it's important.
This can be everything from attending industry events to making an effort to meet people at your own company you may not cross paths with. For example, I'm a remote worker who visits Motley Fool headquarters regularly. When I go into the office, I try to have coffee with someone whose name I've come across, but I have never actually met. This has led to some new friendships, and has, of course, grown my network.
Put in the work
Networking is natural for some people, but not everyone. In my case, I'm good once I'm with new people, but I'm nervous before I've met them. I'm also not great at keeping in touch, and have to make a concerted effort to keep my contacts current.
Networking sounds cold and transactional, but it's really about meeting people and creating relationships. Yes, you're working toward the goal of knowing more people to benefit your career, but you're also making new friends.
You want to be organized in your approach and make an effort to not just make, but keep your network. That should pay off even if it never specifically leads to a job. You might gain some new knowledge, get help on a project, or be able to aid someone in your network when they need help.
Networking can open doors and it can get you chances you otherwise might not have received. It's work you have to do to aid yourself in getting ahead, but it need not be a miserable process. Have fun, make friends, and seek out new experiences. Build your network and it will be there when you need it.
Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Facebook and Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.