by Andrea Santiago
Job search experts and career counselors and coaches are constantly touting the benefits of professional networking. For many job seekers and professionals, establishing and building a network is not that simple. Many wonder where to begin, and with whom to connect. How exactly do you build a resourceful, dynamic network that can actually help you with job search or career advancement?
Network early, and often. (And don’t stop networking!) It’s never too early to start networking. Building a network is a marathon, not a sprint. If possible, start building your network before you’re in dire need of a job. Devote a few minutes a day, several times per week to networking. Even when you are gainfully, happily employed, you should always continue networking, to help you learn more about your industry, advance your career, or develop relationships with potential clients.
Give before you receive. The most effective networkers are able to provide value to their connections, whether it’s industry knowledge, professional introductions, or assistance with any defined need. Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert, offers this advice in an online interview: “Figure out a way to help . . . in some fashion. Give value to others without asking for anything in return.”
Use online and offline networking resources. Social networking sites are a very effective tool for building your professional network. But be careful not to get lost in cyberspace. Get out for quality face time at networking events, conferences, interviews, etc., as well as general face-to-face social interaction of any type.
Account set-up is only the beginning! If you were attending a professional conference or trade show, would you set up your booth and then walk away, leaving it alone, and expect prospects to flock to your empty, unmanned station? The same applies to online social networking. For success in building your network, you must remain active, post updates (preferably ones with some value to your network), and continually invite others to connect with you. Joining the network is just the first step. A blank, dormant account will not attract worthwhile connections.
Focus on proven networks: There are hundreds of networking sites, and deciding where to begin can be overwhelming. Start with one network, and then add one or two more if needed. LinkedIn is a great starting point, and a convenient “home base” for maintaining your network. Eventually you may want to also join a network specific to your industry or professional role, if there is a strong, active site pertaining to your career.
Respond and interact with others. Networking should include mutual interaction. While it’s important to post updates and links from your account, it’s equally important to comment, “like”, and share updates and posts from others’ accounts, particularly those of key influencers. By doing so, you will increase your visibility to important connections as they review responses to their posts, and your connections will be more likely to notice you and remember you when an applicable need arises.
Informal, unofficial events can be the best networking opportunities. Some of the best places and times to network are often outside of “official” networking meetings or industry conferences. These can include social gatherings, or everyday activities in public places such as sitting on an airplane, standing in line, or riding in an elevator. Every interaction is a potential networking opportunity.
Ask questions. People are more likely to open up and let down their guard when asked questions about themselves. Taking an interest in others’ lives and their expertise can help engage a new contact.
Follow-up online. Be sure to reach out online after meeting someone. Invite them to connect to your network so you can keep track of them and continue to reach out to them conveniently.
How does networking work to your advantage? Alison Doyle, author and job search expert, provides some real-world examples of networking successes, plus additional networking tips.
Take just a few minutes to plant a few networking seeds several times a week, and you will ultimately build a resourceful, thriving network of engaged professionals.