Having a strong career support network is one of the most important things you can do to advance your career. Whether you’re looking to switch careers, land a new job, or move up in your current field, leveraging your network can make all the difference.
In this post, we’ll cover how to build, maintain, and tap into your career network so you can meet the right people and create opportunities.
Why Networking Matters for Your Career
Networking gets a bad rap as just being about shameless self-promotion. But done right, it’s about building relationships that are mutually beneficial. Connecting with others who have similar career goals and aspirations can provide you with:
– Job leads and opportunities
– Advice and mentoring
– Industry insights and tips
– Support during your career journey
– Connections to hiring managers
– Increased visibility for your personal brand
Simply put, you’ll go further faster when you have a diverse network supporting and championing you.
How to Network for Your Career
Building a career support network takes time and effort. It’s not something you can do overnight. But here are some tips to get you started:
1. Leverage Existing Relationships
Make a list of everyone you already know who could be part of your network. This includes:
– Family and friends
– Current and former colleagues
– College alumni
– Former bosses and mentors
– Clients or customers
– Fellow members of clubs, groups and associations
Reach out and let them know you’re looking to build your professional network. Offer to connect them with others who could help.
2. Attend Networking Events
Industry meetups, conferences, seminars, trade shows and other events are prime networking opportunities. Come prepared with business cards and an elevator pitch that summarizes who you are and what you do.
Follow up with any promising connections right after the event while it’s fresh. LinkedIn is great for this.
3. Get Active on Social Media
Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Clubhouse make networking easy. You can join industry groups and follow influencers in your field. Look for ways to add value by sharing advice and articles.
Once you build an audience, social media becomes a powerful way to expand your reach.
4. Volunteer Your Time
Giving back is a win-win when it comes to networking. Nonprofits and professional associations are always looking for volunteers. It’s a chance to meet like-minded people who share your career interests.
You can learn new skills too. And volunteering looks great on your resume.
5. Set Up Informational Interviews
Don’t be shy about picking someone’s brain over coffee. Many successful people are happy to offer career advice. Come prepared with thoughtful questions.
Informational interviews are a low-pressure way to build connections and learn insider tips. And you never know what doors they may open in the future.
Cultivate and Maintain Your Career Network
Irrespective of how you build your network and form your team, you should adhere to several principles. Here are a few career networking tips.
Quality over quantity. Unless you are intentionally aiming to maximize the size of your followership or audience, focus on populating your network and team with people whose backgrounds, perspectives, experience and skills are relevant to your professional path.
Be authentic. You always want to put your best foot forward, particularly when you meet someone new, but don’t be someone you’re not. In the end, doing so isn’t going to serve your true interests, and you’ll eventually be found out as a phony.
Give more than you get. If you look at your network too much as, “What can they do for me?” it’s going to catch up to you sooner or later. People will realize you’re in the relationship more for yourself than for mutual benefit, and they’ll stop returning your calls, emails, and texts.
Give before you receive. Again, this won’t always be possible, particularly when you reach out for help from someone who you don’t know (such as an informational interview), but again, it’s a good aspiration. Even in situations where you initially ask for help, you should at least ask the other person if there is anything you can do to help them.
Think win/win. Consistent with the prior two points, make a real effort to find mutual benefit in the situations you discuss with your career support network or team.
Keep up contact. Too often, we reach out to people only when we need something from them. It’s always better to regularly maintain relationships that are important to you.
Show genuine interest in the other person, their work and life details, what’s new, what they’re passionate about, and what their challenges are. Then when you need help, it won’t feel so “out of the blue”.
Finally, introverts often express discomfort in doing what’s needed to build their network and supporting team. As an introvert, connecting with people face to face and trying to meet new people may be difficult.
Bear in mind, though, that 30-50% of the population is estimated to be introverts, so you’re in good company. Also remember – quality over quantity – so focus on building a smaller number of meaningful relationships with the people who know you best.
The people you know and relationships you build can be the difference between career success and stagnation. Take the time to establish your career support network and it will pay dividends throughout your professional journey.