Career networking is more than just hitting a request button on your phone on LinkedIn, where you send a message saying something like, “Hi Bob, you haven’t heard from me in four years, but I’m looking for work and was wondering if you could introduce me to some of your business contacts, forward my resume to people you know, tell me about any job leads you know and act as a reference.”
However, believe it or not, for many people, that’s not an atypical way of managing their professional network. Don’t assume that, just because you’ve “added” many great names to your professional network, you’ll be in good shape when it comes time for a reference. In fact, many people may scoff if you ask for help with a job search, a reference or want help in your career.
Building a career network is easy. Managing it is where the work is.
To understand the difference, follow these seven steps and your network will be ready, willing and able to help you when you need them most.
Create a list of your contacts and put them into an Excel file. Too much work? This might be the difference that gets you a six-figure job or to the C-Suite before your peers do. Add columns such as “title,” “mutual acquaintance,” “company” or “trade association;” doing this will help you quickly filter and navigate for the exact person you’re looking for. Then add personal notes, such as mutual acquaintances, spouse’s name, college attended or other information you can bring up in a conversation. To stay up-to-date on contact info, make sure to refer to your contacts list and update every year to keep their info as current as possible.
Let your contacts know that you’re alive and doing well. Share links to industry news items that you think will benefit certain contacts. Send personal emails any time you hear someone has had good news like a marriage, birth, promotion, an article that gets published, etc. You may not think that matters, but it does!
Take advantage of LinkedIn notifications to congratulate people on work anniversaries, new jobs, published posts or committee appointments. When a major achievement occurs with people, it’s human nature to want recognition, so take the quick second to give it to them.
Career networking should include going to professional cocktail parties, trade shows, conferences, golf tournaments and other gatherings. Even if you’re the shy type, going into mingle mode while at these events is necessary. You don’t have to stay very long — just long enough to say hello, shake hands and chat. Someone who sees you at two or three industry events will get the impression that you’re committed to and involved in your industry.
Find out if your former college has an alumni association in your town. If they do, make sure to attend events, join the alumni association’s Facebook Group (some have city groups) and send notices about your promotions or awards to the alumni magazine. Finding a common interest with other people within your industry is an easy icebreaker.
Write for your profession’s newsletters and magazines and post original articles on LinkedIn. If you don’t like writing, look for opportunities to join LinkedIn groups and provide expert responses to questions posted by group members. Volunteer to speak at conferences and seminars if you feel comfortable.
Additionally, serve on professional committees and boards. You can start small, such as serving on the annual golf tournament or newsletter committee. As you get experience, volunteer to become a committee chair. This can lead to a seat on the board of directors, which is often a springboard to an executive position.
Some of your network contacts will be old friends whom you haven’t seen for a while. Send an email or text and say, “I haven’t seen you for a while, let’s grab lunch or coffee next week.” Remember, even if these friends aren’t near the top of your list, in terms of network value, they might know people who are (or should be). Plus, they’re old friends!
These lunches don’t have to be work-related. It’s better if they’re not. If the only time you contact people in your network is because you want something, you won’t create strong allies. So, remember to manage your network often and sincerely; before you know it, you’ll create more opportunities and climb the corporate ladder faster.
Lead image via Getty
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