What Is Networking?

Networking refers to building and maintaining relationships so that you can connect to career opportunities. By building professional connections and cultivating mutually beneficial relationships, you can exchange valuable advice, information, referrals, and support.

Networking is as simple as having a conversation; it can be formal or informal. Chatting with a neighbour, classmate, or co-worker is informal, while attending a career-related or professional event, such as a career fair or conference, is a more formal type of networking.

Here’s an example of what networking might look like:

James will graduate next year with a degree in business. He is interested in a marketing career in the travel and hospitality industry. He knows that building connections now could help him later.

James writes down a list of names of people in his family, friends, fellow students, instructors, neighbours, and former co-workers. He chooses 5 people to connect with to discuss his future career intentions.

A former professor offers to introduce James by email to an associate who works for a major hotel chain. James introduces himself to Helene, his instructor’s contact. Helene agrees to a 5-minute phone call with James to discuss her work and workplace.

Having made a good impression during the call, James is encouraged to apply for a summer job with Helene’s employer. James applies and is offered the position. James continues to make connections at his summer job to increase future opportunities in his chosen career

When is the best time to start networking?

The best time to start building your network is before you need one, so start early! Developing a network takes time and ongoing effort. Make connections now: Plant seeds that may grow into opportunities later.

Start with your family, friends, neighbours, bosses, colleagues, professors. Then network with community members in your field, alumni, or people at career events. Start developing your own broad list of contacts, especially people you meet through business, educational, and social functions. The goal of this module is to learn practical methods for achieving this.

Building a network takes time, effort, and patience. You can expect to take roughly 30-100 days to build a results-producing network[1]

Who is in your network? Who could be?

In networking, we speak of strong and weak ties. Your “strong ties” include your family and friends, while your “weak ties” are people you see less frequently but with whom conversation flows when you bump into them. Based on research by Mark Granovetter, people who rely on weaker ties in their job searches have better results than those who rely on close ties.[2] This suggests you may need to stretch beyond your usual circles to help develop your career.

To build your networking confidence, you can start out by communicating with your “strong ties” or “warm contacts”. This resource from Career Development Services Inc. offers resources that can help you get started! Make sure to approach this with an open mind, as you never know whom someone might know.

As you engage in networking activities, keep in mind that networking is a two-way street. Help others! Do you know someone who is looking for information? And someone else who could help? Offer to introduce them. Think of information you have that might be useful to someone and share it. Have some of your former strong ties become weak ties over time? There’s a term for that, too: it’s “dormant ties”. Let’s take a closer look at dormant ties in the next activity.

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Activity #15 – Networking Reflections

Watch the video below before beginning the portfolio reflection.

Why network?

Networking is an essential element of a job search: It greatly increases your chances of success and it helps lay the foundation for your career development over time.

At first glance, networking can seem to be about schmoozing and using people. In reality, it’s a chance to make genuine connections and build your professional community. Having connections can help you get further than you could on your own.

“Making contacts in your circle of friends, family and in the broader business community is your key to tapping into the hidden job market and finding those jobs that never make it to the internet postings.”[3]

The hidden job market

The hidden job market refers to jobs that employers do not advertise or publish externally. Often, employers will prefer to hire internally, or to use recruiters or employee referral programs to find external candidates. This can help them find high-quality candidates who will fit well into the organization, while saving on the time and costs associated with recruiting externally.

In fact, the majority of positions are filled through networking versus the traditional methods of job search like online job boards: People are often surprised to learn that 80-90% of all jobs are NOT posted online.[4] So, for your own career development strategy, it makes sense to emphasize networking first, and make applying to posted jobs as a secondary strategy. (Many people use networking as a supplement when it should be the other way around!) Since so many job opportunities are filled through less formal channels, networking helps you to tap into the hidden job market. Additionally, having an inside track to an organization can carry a lot more weight than the content of your resume or cover letter.

“People in your network may be able to give you job leads, offer you advice and information, and introduce you to others so that you can expand your network.”[5]

You know what networking is, why it’s important, who’s involved, and when to get started (today!). Next, let’s start talking about how you can network with impact.

Your elevator pitch

The first tool for your networking toolkit is your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a persuasive speech you use to spark interest in what you can offer as an employee. It should last no longer than a short elevator ride (about 30 seconds), be interesting, and explain what makes you unique.

An elevator pitch is an excellent tool because, when networking, you may only have moments to capture someone’s attention and make a good impression. So, prepare your elevator speech in advance. It should explain who you are, what you’re seeking, and what you can offer. Here are some examples:

  • I’m about to complete my degree and I am currently seeking a position in social work. I love to help families with small children, and I’m looking to find a position at a small community organization where I can interact directly with clients.
  • I help people create attention-getting, high-converting e-commerce web sites. I love to find creative ways to customize designs and meet client needs. What can you tell me about your current web site?

Once you’ve crafted your pitch, practice it until it sounds natural. You can always adapt your pitch depending on the situation. For example, you can adapt your pitch to ask for information and advice.

Here’s a sample introduction for a networking event that incorporates the elements of a solid elevator pitch:

Hi, I’m Darren Delaney. I see that you have experience in the food production industry. I’m currently studying chemical engineering and I’m interested in production-related work in the areas of brewing and distilling. I have some experience in quality control. May I ask you about what you do?

A classic manila folder--a page peeks out from inside itPortfolio Activity #16 – Drafting Your Elevator Pitch

There’s no need to try to perfect your pitch right now. This activity is meant to be a starting point. Take time to revisit and work on your elevator pitch periodically as you journey through your career efforts.


Media Attributions

  • Lightbulb via Careerspace
  • Document File via Careerspace

  1. https://www.trentu.ca/careerspace/sites/trentu.ca.careerspace/files/documents/careerspace-sheet-NETWORKING_corrected_0.pdf
  2. https://www.ft.com/content/0292a22a-883c-40d3-99ee-5e45af735cab
  3. https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/careers/tips-networking-strategies
  4. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/new-survey-reveals-85-all-jobs-filled-via-networking-lou-adler
  5. https://www.trentu.ca/careerspace/sites/trentu.ca.careerspace/files/documents/careerspace-sheet-NETWORKING_corrected_0.pdf


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