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Understanding your sector
Understanding your sector

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1.1 What is networking?

All the networks you identified in Section 1 also have the potential to be useful in finding out about your sector. This is captured in a further definition of a network, from the same source, as ‘a group of people who exchange information and contacts for professional or social purposes’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2021). The kind of network that you will be considering in this section must have a purpose, and that purpose is one that you must define.

Networks can be used for many different purposes in developing your career, for example:

  • to find out more about what a particular job or career involves on a day-to-day basis
  • to find out about how someone’s career has developed over time
  • to receive early notice about possible future vacancies
  • to see if you can arrange a work placement or visit to a workplace.

These are just a few purposes and you may be able to think of more. In short, using networks can be a powerful way of researching your sector and of widening your knowledge about opportunities within it, giving you access to other people’s experience and perspectives.

Now you have defined networks, what is networking? Oxford Dictionaries says that to network is ‘the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts’ (Oxford Dictionaries, 2021), meaning that networking is a very deliberate and conscious act; it does not happen by accident. It also means that networking is not about selfishly looking after your own interests and pursuing your own agenda. The definition above uses the word ‘exchange’ carefully; good networking is a two-way process and is as much about answering the question ‘How can I help?’ as it is about ‘What can I get?’

Networking sometimes has negative connotations reflecting suspicion about the motives behind it. You may have heard people make comments such as ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and ‘the old boys’ network’. These express the doubts that some people have about networking and its role in merely extending privilege. This may well be the case but, even if we accept this, there are many reasons for networking. Listed below are a few to think about.

  • Networking increases the number of people you know and who know you.
  • You can turn to more people for help and advice.
  • Networking keeps you in touch with opportunities.
  • Networking may be very useful at the start of your career when you are less well connected.
  • Effective networkers are more likely to be offered opportunities.
  • Networking allows you to contribute something to others – the principle of reciprocity.

In the next section, you will investigate how to network successfully.