An extensive professional network is instrumental in your career. But if you want to develop a meaningful network, you have to be willing to put in the work.
I’ve learned a lot about networking in the early days of my career. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact I’ve spent some time working for a social media content company, and social networking seems to be a part of my DNA. Even so, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that networking is truly an invaluable tool – one that can have a big impact on your career.
Many millennials are overeducated and underemployed, and they’re struggling to find a balance in the work they do. There are a lot of emotions swirling around – frustration, defeat and anxiety to name a few. When can we cut a break? How can we shift gears and get some real traction in our careers?
The answer may be simpler than we think. Network.
It’s something we hear again and again. But why isn’t it working?
We aren’t seeing results from our networking because the approach we’re taking is all wrong. In fact, if you want your networking efforts to be a success, you need to stop networking with only your success in mind. Here are some important tips to consider:
1. Network to connect, not to gain.
Networking should never be viewed as a strictly self-serving concept. In fact, it requires much effort and personal contribution. With every connection you make, consider what you have to offer this person to make their life or work better. You may not have the business experience of a CEO, or the hiring expertise of an HR manager, but you have specific skill sets and knowledge to share. Present these assets in a way that truly shows you are looking out for the other person’s best interests, not simply trying to pitch yourself as a candidate for a potential job opening.
2. Take advantage of opportunities to close the gap.
Everyone should have a list of their dream career contacts. Who are the people you look up to in your field? Who would you jump at the opportunity to meet for lunch? Today, these types of people are more accessible than ever. Not only should you be following them on social media, but you should be proactive in looking for opportunities to engage. Read a blog post by a professional you admire? Post a comment. You may actually find they’ll respond. And if you continue to do this, soon they’ll recognize your name and may even extend an email address to connect. Then you can take it a step further and ask them to meet for coffee. What do you have to lose?
3. Attend conferences and events.
Maybe you’re stuck working a retail job right now, or a desk job unrelated to your degree, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing the chance to build on your core strengths and passions. Search for conferences and events that interest you, and make the effort to attend. If a speaker discusses a topic that resonates with you, seek them out after the presentation and strike up a conversation. In-person communication still trumps all electronic correspondence. Be inquisitive when making connections, and try to learn something new.
4. Stay in touch and stay relevant.
Whether you’ve met online, at a coffee shop or at a conference hall, follow up with the connections you’ve made within 12 hours. And if you haven’t already, connect with the individual on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter. Send a personalized email to thank them and highlight something you learned. Then, stay in touch. Reach out every few months with an email or perhaps an article on a shared interest. Go out of your way to become a valuable connection that person can rely on.
What are your tips for making valuable connections? Share them below.