Networking: Connecting Authentically in a Professional World
Networking: Connecting Authentically in a Professional World

Networking: Connecting Authentically in a Professional World

Employee Learning & Development, Company Culture   — 5 MIN


Porter Gale’s book, “Your Network Is Your New Worth”, highlights the importance of authentic networking in today’s digital age. If you choose not to network, you may be missing out on establishing new lasting relationships, personal transformation, and tangible wealth. All of which can help build the foundation for happiness and success.  

Understanding authentic networking  

Authentic networking involves building genuine and meaningful connections with others who share the same values and interests while appreciating their differences and diverse perspectives. Being authentic means staying true to our personality, beliefs, and values. It also means we're more effective communicators and express ourselves better.  

Everyone has reasons to network— venturing into a new career path, prospecting for business opportunities, pushing for an internal promotion, seeking career advice, learning new ideas or more about an industry, and even simply desiring more visibility or practicing interpersonal skills.  

The benefits of networking are plentiful - authentic networking helps achieve your and your connections' goals. Lives are enriched as conversations start on a deeper level. By sharing knowledge, skills, advice, and expertise it helps everyone learn and grow. It’s imperative to put your best foot forward while always remembering to be your authentic self. This means being self-aware and confident about your personal brand 

Being self-aware means identifying strengths and passions and also knowing how we can add value. When crafting a genuine personal brand, keep in mind that this is the image that is created in the minds of others when they interact with us.  

Our brand is what makes us unique! What makes each of us memorable? Are we known for our generosity, dependability, or attention to detail? Our brand can be calm in demeanor, upbeat, or have a humorous tone. If your brand is authentic, your value and contributions will shine through. 

Connecting with others on an emotional level will strengthen your personal brand and personal network. Be fully present in the interaction by active listening:  

  • Put cell phones away. 
  • Focus on the person speaking. Don’t think about what you’ll say next.
  • Listen with your whole body. Maintain eye contact. Lean in. Your body language should say, “I’m open and I want to hear what you have to say."
  • Be curious and ask questions. 
  • Remember all the details of the conversation. Reflect on their words and verbally paraphrase what they said back to them. 

The benefits of active listening are many – from building stronger relationships through trust and respect to showing we value others’ perspectives and experiences. This encourages others to be open as well.  

When we actively listen, we are also cultivating empathy and building deeper relationships with our connections. Being a truly empathetic person means genuinely caring about others, their circumstances, struggles, and feelings. This establishes mutual trust and respect.  

Building authentic relationships  

Studies show that people, especially when meeting for the first time, enjoy and find satisfaction in meaningful conversations. This gives people a feeling of connection and a higher level of happiness. 

How do you initially “break the ice” effectively to even begin a meaningful conversation with someone you don’t know? “How does asking what do you do for a living?” manifest into a meaningful conversation that’s going to become an authentic long-term relationship? It most likely will not. Instead phrase the sentence, “What critical roles have led you to your success?” Asking thoughtful questions such as this one encourages open dialogue. This in turn will help us find common ground.  

It’s important when making connections to recognize shared interests and goals both on a personal and professional level. Sharing our passions can help to accelerate authentic relationships. Perhaps there’s a shared affection for the theater or a love for the outdoors and enjoyment of hiking and gardening. Maybe you are both marketing gurus and share the same career aspirations. These shared interests and goals begin to deepen and can lead to lifelong authentic relationships.

Most relationships require navigating differences and diverse perspectives. It’s how one goes about this that makes a difference in maintaining the relationship. It’s important to be open-minded, active listeners, and empathetic. Finding value and understanding differences without judgment fosters trust and mutual respect. Engaging in open communication and showing a genuine interest in each other’s viewpoints strengthens the bond and depth of the relationship.  

It’s then necessary to nurture those cherished relationships that took patience and time to build. To start, it’s as simple as sending thoughtful follow-up messages.  

One message might say: “It was a pleasure to meet you! I thought you might enjoy this blog on Supporting your Gen Z Workforce as you mentioned it was one of your company’s initiatives. I look forward to enjoying coffee with you next month.” 

This is an easy and effective way of offering value and continued engagement. The message can be sent via text, email, LinkedIn Messenger, or whatever method feels right based on the connection.  

Once you’ve established the connection, providing support and collaboration helps to maintain it. Perhaps one of our connections wants to switch career paths and is interested in learning more about the industry. Why not set up a series of informational interviews at our company to help them achieve their goals? Perhaps suggest training, webinars, podcasts, blogs, books, and networking events that would be helpful. It’s also important to offer to help with a project, connect others, or share intel or ideas. This helps position you as an asset to their professional network, as well.  

Another way to nurture connections is to collaborate on projects or partner with them on a shared goal. For example, volunteering for a special project creates a new connection with someone on a cross-functional team. This not only shows off your skill set and expertise but offers value to their team, as well. And, possibly, new initial connections will begin. It’s a win-win situation.  

Overcoming networking challenges   

Networking can be intimidating even to C-Suite members. Some deal with overcoming shyness, imposter syndrome, or social anxiety whereas others are afraid of rejection or setbacks. Mentors are valuable resources to have throughout your career. And you may even meet some of your mentors while networking. Many successful employees have multiple mentors for different career stages. Mentors can share their wisdom, experience, networking tips, support, and introductions to influential connections. 

Time is precious. Balancing quantity and quality in your network is key. Not everyone is going to be a “fit.” If there is no value in what either party has to offer, there is no need to nurture the relationship. Sometimes, an introduction from one connection to another is all that’s needed. It’s better to have a small number of quality connections than hundreds of miscellaneous connections that offer little value to your goals or theirs’, 

Leveraging authentic networking for professional growth  

Authentic connections foster genuine relationships, which can open mutually beneficial doors to collaboration and partnerships. These genuine bonds can lead to mentorship opportunities, offering guidance and wisdom in navigating our careers. A strong network bolsters our visibility and professional reputation, making it easier to secure promotions, references, and high-profile assignments. 

Networking plays a pivotal role in career advancement by expanding exposure to opportunities and industry insights. Authentic connections can also provide access to non-publicized jobs or high-profile projects. Astonishingly, 70% of jobs in the US are never advertised publicly. And 85% of job openings are filled by networking rather than traditional hiring methods. 

To establish yourself as an industry thought leader, it’s important to actively engage in discussions, and offer insights and solutions based on career experiences. You can demonstrate your capabilities and knowledge by contributing time to professional organizations, writing blog posts, and giving presentations or webinars.  

As you build your network, requesting endorsements and testimonials from peers, clients, and managers to validate your skills and expertise is critical. By showcasing your knowledge and accomplishments, you are marketing yourself for future career success. Lastly, maintain an updated professional profile on platforms like LinkedIn, showing achievements, qualifications, and current projects to strengthen visibility.