It took almost four years of job search for senior learning and development professional Rikta Phani to land a suitable assignment after medical exigencies in her family forced her to leave her job in 2013. “It was not an easy decision. I was doing well as the national head of training for a direct-to-home television company in Bengaluru. When my parents fell ill, I had no option but to quit and move back to care for them as I had no support in Kolkata," says Phani.

Getting back to a job turned out to be an unyielding hunt for Phani, who has two decades of experience in companies including ABB, Bharat Shell Ltd, Amway, Tata Honeywell, and Airtel Centum. “I spent a large part of my day looking out: Devoting around four to five hours perusing job portals, talking to people, sending around eight to nine applications a week," says Phani, recalling her struggle to return to work.“The few and far between jobs that came by were huge comedowns—either in terms of job level or compensation. Finally, I landed an assignment at an IT service and consulting company after a former co-worker, who was working there, told me about this gig and put in a good word," she adds.

Rikta Phani landed an assignment only after a co-worker recommended her. Photo: Amit Datta/Mint
Rikta Phani landed an assignment only after a co-worker recommended her. Photo: Amit Datta/Mint

Phani’s return-to-work journey is no surprise given “more than 70% of professionals get hired at companies where they have a personal connection," according to professional social networking site LinkedIn.

Returns of Networking

In fact, candidates who are referred by an employee are eight times more likely to get hired. And in some industries including IT and computer networking, banking, oil and energy, and media, it can give your job application an even bigger boost than you may think. For instance, at consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) India, more than one-third of hiring happens through an employee referral and professional networks. “The most successful way to land a job is through your inside connections and the people to whom they could connect you," says Jagjit Singh, chief people officer, PwC India. “There are obvious caveats though. The common fallacy is if I am well networked, then I am also good at the job," he says. “Networking can only get you a foot in the door and may get you started but don’t expect networking to propel your career to new heights. That needs a combination of the right attitude, agility, curiosity and hard work. If one has a can-do attitude, competence and makes the right connections with the spirit of sharing and not selling, then networking can have a huge multiplier effect on one’s career."

What it is not

Curiously, networking is often misunderstood or not given enough importance as a long-term investment in professional advancement. And this is a worldwide trend. While 79% professionals globally agree that professional networking is valuable for career progression, less than half say that they keep in touch with their network when things are going well in their career, reveals LinkedIn data.

Experts say, creating a network of quality connections and a good number of connections requires work. Successful networking is when two people create a mutually beneficial relationship, where both parties receive value in the form of advice, introductions or partnership. “The starting point is to make time for it. Most people do not make the time for constructive networking," says Chandramouli Venkatesan, author of Catalyst: The ultimate strategies on how to win at work and in life, and former managing director at Mondelez International.

“The second thing is to choose the right events and opportunities where people similar to you with mutual interest are present," adds Venkatesan. For instance, an IT professional can attend technology events including Nasscom Annual Technology Conference, and TechEd India.

Get the most out

Networks are everywhere. For leveraging networks optimally to advance one’s career, one needs to tap both internal and external networks in offline as well as online modes. And with the ubiquitous presence of digital media, one can network with anyone, anywhere and anytime of the day on professional networks including Meetup, Quora, and XING.

“Networking within your company can help fuel your internal career growth, while networking externally can allow you to make big career leaps. That’s why you need to do both, not one or the other," says Dan Schawbel, workplace expert and author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.

Many of the same principles apply to both external and internal networking but there is a nuance to the internal process that is unique, say experts.

“There is politics within organizations, so I would recommend getting permission or asking your manager who you should meet. Going over your manager’s head might come back to them and look bad," says Schawbel.

While the main networking principles apply to everyone regardless of the level or job title, the difference lies in the approach. For instance, a mid-career professional, working for an organization for several years, networks for better job opportunities while senior executives use networks to bolster their personal brand and reputation in their industry. “Executive networking is less about individual career but more about giving back, being viewed as thought leaders, mentoring and hiring passionate professionals for their teams," says Singh.

In essence, the networking method or milieu notwithstanding, successful networking calls for sharp focus and time investment in developing connections and nurturing them over time, he adds.

Pro tips for graduates

Dig your well before you are thirsty

The best time to start networking is while you are still in college. Seize every opportunity to connect with professors, industry leaders or alum visiting . Always follow up with a thank you note.

Make the most of summer jobs, internships

Volunteering with college clubs is a good way to gain experience. Get to know people who could tip your career trajectory. Make sure to keep in touch with the people whose career you want to model after the end of the internship.

Be conscious of your digital footprint

Make sure your profile on professional networking sites projects a professional image. Be cognizant of the fact that recruiters can be checking your social media pages.

Cold email with warmth

Reaching out to someone you do not know is one of the easiest yet ineffectively used means to network. Be sure to cold email people you admire, or an influencer you follow on social media. If there is a specific company or person you would like to work for, request for an informational interview. Always be respectful and genuine.

Lunch or LinkedIn

While communicating by text and e-mail works in many situations, networking calls for a more personal approach. Take out time to grab a coffee or lunch. Just keep in mind that if someone is more senior than you, you might have to arrange a meeting through their secretary and you will want to be professional in your language.

Pay it forward

Successful networking boils down to figuring out what problem others are trying to solve and how you can help them. Do not be afraid to offer help or advice or introduce people to each other.

—Dan Schawbel

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