How informal networking can grow your career

It’s often said that ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ that is significant when it comes to business. Networking and making connections with others has always been an important part of getting ahead in any industry. Recent years have seen a huge increase in business-orientated social media, with sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook growing in popularity for both recruitment and networking.

With such advances and changes in working practices, traditional networking may not be as relevant as it once was and informal networking may be the way to further your career.

Whatever industry you are in, networking can be a valuable pursuit in order to get ahead. It can be helpful for hearing about new jobs and developments in companies. So what exactly is informal marketing, how does it work and how is it different?

Just as traditional networking, it is all about contacting, communicating with and getting to know business contacts. In this way, you build up a network of professional contacts with whom you can share valuable information and knowledge The way in which informal networking differs from traditional networking is that it is less structured and doesn’t need to be in a confined professional setting.

Informal networking is more about being open to meeting a range of professionals in a variety of environments and settings. Rather than rushing to exchange business cards with a contact at an organised structured meeting, informal networking is about letting the conversation flow freely and organically in a relaxed environment.

An example of informal networking could be a gala dinner. Such an event might seem like a formal occasion in that the attendees get the chance to don their dinner jackets or ball gowns and enjoy a spectacular multiple course meal. It offers guests the chance to enjoy an evening where the focus is not on professional matters but rather about entertainment.

However, it also affords professionals from all areas and backgrounds the chance to get to meet and integrate with people with whom may not usually have the opportunity to connect. This is just one example of informal networking, but opportunities can be found anywhere and everywhere. Getting to know people around you in settings such as the gym, the local community even the school run, you never know who you may meet or how a relationship could be mutually beneficial.

A report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, titled Entrepreneurship and Informal Communities found corroborating evidence that some forms of informal networking can be beneficial. The report found a correlation between success and those entrepreneurs who actively engage in business-related social media such as LinkedIn.

It is thought that this is because of the friendship aspect and sense of community. Often, when networking isn’t enforced and evolves organically, it can involve a deeper connection. The study reports that engaging with like-minded professionals can help “mitigate pitfalls and cultivate creativity and innovation”.

The lesson to take away is that in this day and age, networking need not be confined to business environments. Take opportunities to meet new contacts wherever you are, whatever you are doing and these informal meetings may just make connections that can be beneficial to your career.