Guide to Networking

Networking is forming and cultivating meaningful relationships with people who can help you access new and current information, gain exposure to new experiences, and connect you to new people. Networking is one of the most effective ways to fulfill your career goals because people in your network can support you as you explore career options, search for work, and grow in your career. Your network can also provide important social and emotional support.

Your Network

Think about the kinds of support you can expect from your network. Your need for support may be intensified when you are searching for work or considering a career transition, but your network can be instrumental to your success at all stages of your career.

Creating and maintaining an inventory of relationships can be useful. To begin, think about who you call when you need:

  • Advice: People who have successfully done something you are working towards; people who can provide advice and assistance.
  • Support: People with good listening skills and concern for you who will provide you with moral or emotional support.
  • Information: People who have current information about what is happening in a field, sector, organization, or community.
  • Connections: People who might open a door for you by providing a reference or an introduction to someone you should meet.
  • Instruction: People willing to help you gain additional knowledge or who can tutor you on skills you require.
  • Sponsorship: People who are willing to champion your ideas, provide you with a reference, or provide the funding you require.

Remember, you are a part of people's networks too. You can add value to others' networks by connecting people, offering your skills and talents, and providing knowledge. Be sure to thank your contacts when they help you and keep them up to date on developments in your career. Networking relationships are reciprocal which means you should treat people respectfully, learn what others need, and be thoughtful about making your relationships worthwhile.

Networking as a work search strategy

Networking is proven to be a highly effective work search strategy. In our Employment Survey of 2010 University of Alberta Graduates, three of the top five job search strategies that lead to an interview or offer of employment directly involved networking (i.e., talked to people I know well and let them know I was looking for work, contacted organizations or people I had previously worked or volunteered with, and talked to acquaintances and let them know I was looking for work).

The other two top methods involved applying to job postings found on employers' websites or other websites, but networking is likely involved in these cases as well. The internet makes it very easy for employers to post jobs and secure applications. Most organizations have a website or a social media presence. Many organizations have formal recruitment processes that you must follow in order to be considered for a vacancy. The question then becomes how to stand out among the other applicants. Networking allows you to make an impression on people who make the hiring decisions, or those who are closely connected to people making hiring decisions. When your application comes through the formal channels, networking means your name may be recognized. Employers often appreciate prior knowledge of applicants since it can reduce the workload of shortlisting applicants.

Networking can give you additional knowledge about organizational culture, challenges the organization is faced with, initiatives in the planning stages, and other information that will help you skillfully target your application. Networking can also give you tips about opportunities that may be coming. This is all information that can increase your competitive edge. Some employers may choose not to post available jobs, preferring instead to interview people who are recommended by current employees, or other professional contacts.


Your network includes all the people you interact with either frequently or occasionally. They do not need to be working in the fields you are interested in. Each of your contacts has its own network of contacts they may be willing to connect you with. Start making a list of:

  • Immediate family
  • Other relatives
  • Friends and acquaintances
  • Previous employers and colleagues (from paid and unpaid work)
  • Teachers, instructors, advisors at educational institutions you have attended
  • Past customers or clients
  • Community contacts
  • Association/committee contacts
  • Social club/church/athletic team/support group contacts
  • Previous and current mentors

It is also useful to find ways to expand your network since it will help you gain access to new information and connections that may not be accessible by those close to you. Consider some of the following strategies: