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Looking to grow your network? Experts say get out your head, rely on 'weak-ties'

Elaisha Jade Green credits networking for the successful career she has built since moving to Vancouver for work.
A person uses a cell phone in Ottawa on Monday, July 18, 2022. Elaisha Jade Green credits networking for the successful career she has built since moving to Vancouver for work. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Elaisha Jade Green credits networking for the successful career she has built since moving to Vancouver for work. 

The 29-year-old, who works in social media marketing and corporate wellness, said building and maintaining professional connections in the early stages of her career has led to new opportunities, starting a business and even new friendships.

"Through networking, I've been able to receive opportunities I never would have dreamed of," she said. 

Despite success stories like Green's, young people starting out in their careers often view networking as a daunting task. 

Devon Turcotte, a career adviser for generation Z and millennial job seekers at Careerified, said young professionals can "get in their heads about it." 

The term networking can spook people, Turcotte said, but it simply means "having conversations, building relationships and demonstrating curiosity and interest in other people." 

Turcotte said people also sometimes falsely assume networking means reaching out to strangers. Instead, she recommends connecting with "weak ties" – acquaintances who can often be more influential than close friends. 

Green said she got her first job through her university professor. 

“I emailed her once in a while — not daily to avoid annoying her of course — to remind her about my interest in the industry and she delivered."

Then, when Green was laid off at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a catch-up call with a long-time acquaintance who worked in the tech sector that led to a new position. 

The pair had a phone conversation about what it was like working with the company that Green was interested in. After the call, the connection recommended Green for the job, helping her application reach the top of the pile. 

Green said networking is also about more than just finding a job. 

It can help young people understand what roles might be a good fit for them and know what expectations to have in terms of salary negotiations, she said. 

“I would not have learned that information if I had not built up a network of other women in tech and wellness who trusted me enough to share." 

Networking can also happen within your own job, said Gayle Hallgren, chief engagement officer at Shepa Learning Company, a professional training and coaching company.

Letting your colleagues know that you can “pinch hit” for them when needed may lead to new professional opportunities, such as attending an event or meeting in the place of a more senior employee who is too busy to go, she said.

Hallgren added there is also an argument to be made for always dressing professionally at work even when there’s no dress code. It means you’re ready to jump in when these types of opportunities pop up, she said.

Another key to networking is to not focus on yourself, but instead what you can do for others, Hallgren said.

She said people should take on the role of a connector and see if they can introduce someone to anyone in their professional field based on shared interests or goals.

Hallgren also recommends steering your professional group away from being "cliquey." Consider each inviting someone new who is in the same or a related industry next time you all get together.  

Finding common ground can also help people find new professional connections online, Turcotte said. 

Alumni associations can be a good place to start, she said. On LinkedIn, you can visit your school’s alumni page to see who studied the same program as you and where they are now.

Other ways to find common ground include volunteering or a hobby where you can expand your network, she said. 

One lesson Green has learned when it comes to networking is to always try connecting with the other person at a second location, whether that’s in person or virtual.  

“Once you meet a person at an event or even in the street, it’s important you clearly form another channel for communication," she said. "That could mean LinkedIn, email or text."

Hallgren said she commonly hears people say they don’t have time to network, but advises them to think of their everyday interactions with people as networking.

“Think about the ways that you can be impactful, make a difference in their lives, and how you can stay on their radar. It’s a mindset.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2022.

Leah Golob, The Canadian Press