What is networking?
Networking is the action of interacting with others to gather and exchange information and develop contacts. It’s about connecting with others to build mutually beneficial relationships.
When you are searching for a job, having a robust network is crucial. But don’t wait until you are searching for a job to connect. Networking can also help you on an everyday basis to keep up with the latest trends in your field, learn about a new career, and make connections for others building their networks.
How to network
Identify your network
Everyone you know is in your network! Build on your network by asking someone you know for one or two names and then ask those people for names. Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:
- family and friends
- co-workers (past and current)
- community members
- volunteer contacts
- professional groups
- school classmates, instructors, staff (college and high school)
- your college alumni association
Create a brief story (aka elevator pitch) highlighting your background and experience as it relates to what you are doing or want to be doing (for career changers). Practice your story. Use this story to introduce yourself to potential contacts. Always carry and use business cards.
Ask open-ended questions, listen, and be curious
Just as important as telling your story is listening to the stories of people with whom you wish to connect. Ask questions about their background, interests, advice, trends, etc.
Attend networking events
Some people loath the idea of attending networking events. Regardless of how you feel about such events, determine whether or not you think the event will benefit your objectives and if the right people will be there.
Offer to help on projects in the community or at work. Volunteer with an organization of interest. Set up coffee or lunch meetings with your connections. Take a class. Try something new.
Become a connector
Help those in your network connect with others in order to build their own networks.
Be intentional about social media
Trying to connect with someone at a specific organization? Ask your social media contacts if they know anyone there. Connect or reconnect with former classmates, coworkers, friends, etc.
Use LinkedIn to connect
Use LinkedIn to connect and build your network. Here are a few tips:
- Make sure your profile is in good shape
- Reach out to potential connections with a customized request rather than using LinkedIn’s default message
- Join LinkedIn groups that align with your interests, have many members, and are active
- Connect with alumni from your alma mater and join any groups related to your school
- Engage with your contacts by liking and commenting on their posts, providing your own status updates, and sharing articles or other content.
Tips for building and maintaining your network
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Join at least one professional or trade association in your field or field of interest. Attend their meetings and get involved. Join organizations that best meets your needs.
Get involved with your alumni association. Pursue local chapters or set one up yourself. Submit current information concerning your career achievements to the alumni association and follow up with other alumni in your interest area.
Attend professional conferences. Introduce yourself to speakers and attendees. Obtain a list of attendees and speakers and keep in touch using LinkedIn or other methods.
Consider professional development programs an opportunity to increase your skills and knowledge, AND a chance to expand your network.
Attend short programs and speeches in areas of interest sponsored by networking groups, adult and continuing education, alumni associations, professional and trade associations, and community and governmental organizations.
Interact and participate
Keep in touch with professors and instructors of college, university, and adult and continuing education courses.
Plan on meeting your contacts regularly for breakfast, lunch, or coffee, whatever fits into your schedule.
Invite your contacts to attend professional meetings, programs, and speeches.
Introduce your different contacts to each other and let others know you are open to and interested in meeting new people.
When looking for information, request recommendations and introductions from your contacts.
Keep your eyes and ears open to contacts’ news. Send notes of congratulations for noteworthy events. Send notes of encouragement and sympathy when appropriate.
Connect with authors of books and articles in your field. Establish and pursue a connection via social media (including LinkedIn) or email.
Offer to participate in user groups and committees in your organization. Be open to working with members of different departments and divisions within your organization.
Contribute articles to LinkedIn, journals, and newsletters of trade and professional associations. Connect with the editors, staff, and readers.
Share articles of interest with your contacts and send or post them with a short note.
Recommend and exchange resources. Pass along reviews, newsletters, articles, reports, and program materials.
Express appreciation. Send thank-you notes or take your contacts out to lunch.
Continue to grow your list of contacts and connect with people on a regular basis. Then maintain an active network by reaching out periodically to the people on your contact list.
Create a system for keeping track of your network of connections. Keep track of contact name, organization, position title, email, mailing address, LinkedIn profile, and phone numbers. Make a habit of collecting business cards and establish a system for filing them.