To a large extent, your career depends on networking. Members of your network may hire you, act as references for you, alert you to job openings, and introduce you to potential employers or business partners. These are all crucial if you’re looking for a job, but you can also benefit from networking even if you’re not currently in the job market.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t make estimates on the number of times the average person changes jobs in his or her career, but just think about the possible scenarios in which networking can come in handy…
- Changing careers altogether
- Being laid off when your company downsizes
- Looking for an internal promotion
- Trying to expand your business
Networking is clearly important—and the following tips can help you build your professional network:
- Take advantage of traditional networking.
We may be moving toward a digital world, but traditional, face-to-face networking is still valuable. Job fairs, trade shows, and professional conferences let you meet other professionals in your field and in similar fields.
Face-to-face contact can make a positive impression, especially if you behave professionally:
- Dress to impress
- Be positive and friendly
- Take an interest in other people’s work and organization
- Let people know what you have to offer
Later, follow up with an email or connect via social media, and remind new contacts that you met them in person at a particular event.
- Use LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is the place to go for online professional networking. You’re cutting yourself off from career advancement opportunities if you’re not actively using this site. Spend some time to make sure that your profile page is attractive and polished. Connect directly with all of your first-degree contacts, or people whom you know directly. Accept invitations from your first-degree contacts’ contacts to become their second degree-contacts. Lastly, keep your eyes open for opportunities to invite other people, or third-degree contacts, to join your network.
- Build your online presence.
Potential employers and other professional contacts can find you anytime when your online presence is strong. Consider using the following platforms (and actively update them):
- Maintain contacts
- Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest
- Niche networking sites for others in your profession
- A website, if you run a small business
Regardless of how informal the setting may seem, always keep your online presence clean and professional. You never know who might see pictures of a wild party on your Facebook account. Some potential employers may even search the web to see what dirt they can find—even if it’s from your personal life.
- Set goals.
Set goals to be more active, so your network continues to grow. These are a couple of sample goals:
- Talk to at least five people at an upcoming job fair or business dinner
- Connect with at least four people this week on LinkedIn, and leave at least two recommendations
- Keep your eyes open.
Anyone can be a positive addition to your professional network. Professors, employers, coworkers, and guest speakers are some of the more obvious connections—but keep your career in mind when you’re running errands, too. Think about how you might connect with people professionally, even when you’re at the grocery store, and always have a business card on hand to build your network.
Your professional network can take your career in new directions, and it’s up to you to build it. Whether you’re actively searching for a job or you’re just looking out for your future, these tips can help you expand your network.