Career Networking

Make real connections to grow your network—and your career.

Networking has become a buzzword in the career world, but do you really understand what it means and how to do it? Many people associate the idea of networking with a hard sell, but networking has evolved as new technology has become available. It’s easier than ever to grow your network without resorting to pushy tactics.

The old adage is true: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Growing your network will ensure that you know plenty of people who may be able to help you—and in turn, you may be able to help them.

There are a number of ways to grow your network.

Maintain the relationships you already have. The relationships you have form the foundation of your network. Keep in touch with teachers, professors, former classmates, friends, parents of friends, coaches, and anyone else you have worked with or developed a relationship with. It’s easier to stay in touch than it is to reestablish contact. Keep it simple and keep it genuine, but keep the lines of communication open. No one likes a person who only initiates contact when they want or need something.

Attend networking events. Many community organizations host networking events. Contact your local chamber of commerce for a schedule of events. Use the event for its intended purpose. Prepare yourself ahead of time and be ready to provide a brief description of what you do. Take plenty of business cards with you and be ready to receive business cards from others.

Follow up. Networking is only as good as the follow-up. If you exchange contact information with someone, use it. Send a brief note or e-mail and let the person know that you enjoyed meeting him/her and that you’d like to stay in touch.

Use social media (wisely). Social media is a new tool that has taken networking to new levels. It can be an effective tool if used judiciously. Use social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to share meaningful information. Exercise caution—use it too sparingly and it’s unlikely to have an impact; overuse it and you’re liable to be “de-friended.” Instead, channel your inner Goldilocks and find the balance that feels just right. It can be a wonderful way to reach new people. If you share valuable information, your followers are likely to share it with their followers—and presto, you’ve just gained new followers.

Give. Look at networking as an opportunity to give rather than get. Offer your assistance when you can. Make connections for people. Focus on how you can help others and you’re likely to see your own network grow.

Make it personal. Make individual contact and keep your requests genuine, specific, and personal. Skip the general mass e-mail requesting help. That’s sort of like trying to shoot fish in a barrel. Instead, pick up the phone or send a note or e-mail and ask for what you need. People genuinely want to help. If they cannot help you, they will likely try to connect you with someone who can.

Master the art of the thank-you note. A sincere, handwritten thank-you note leaves a lasting impression. If someone went out of their way to help you make a connection, take a few moments to drop them a note of appreciation. Doing so is likely to ensure that the person will become a solid part of your network.

Networking can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re all in this together. Remember, it takes a village. It’s a ripple effect—start with your inner circle and grow from there. Before you know it, you’ll have circles upon circles of connections.