Looking to amp up your career network, but you’re not quite sure how? Building up a network of useful contacts is actually much easier than you might think.
The old saying is, “it’s not what you know, it's who you know” and while that statement is a bit depressing, it holds some truth. The more people you know in your chosen career field, the higher you can climb up that office ladder.
We got chatting to Lora Poepping, founder of Plum Job Search Strategies, about the importance of networking and how your network is already vaster than you think.
"The most important tool you can ever have is your network," she says. "When I say your network, I mean the people you’ve formally worked with, their friends, your parents’ friends, or people who you went to school with, or the even the parents of the people you went to school with."
Even with all those people in your network, it is still important to build up your contacts within your career field. With social media, networking has become a whole new ball game. It is easier than ever to meet new people through the Internet, but you need some face time to really make yourself unforgettable. There is no magic formula to networking, but we do have a few fail-safe tips to get you started.
The first step? Get yourself some business cards. When you’re trying to build up a network, it can be incredibly difficult to remember names and email addresses.
One simple way to remember who you’ve met, and to make sure they remember you, is to exchange business cards. Keep your contacts in order by keeping all those tiny cards organized and accessible.
Once your business cards are ready, introduce yourself to everyone. If they work in your office, introduce yourself. If you see someone at a networking event, introduce yourself. A good deal of the time, you will probably forget who you met, or they won’t actually turn out to be that useful of a contact. However, if you put yourself out there continually, you will find those certain special people who can really make your dream career become a reality.
Break the ice
One of the most daunting tasks in life, especially for those of us who are a bit shy, is approaching complete strangers and trying to make conversation.
If you're feeling a bit awkward about showing up to an event or party alone, bring a friend. They can help build up your confidence and give you a safe harbor when you need one. Just remember, you are there to meet new people, so don't fall back on simply staying by your friend's side all night. Put yourself out there!
One great way to break the ice at any party is to make friends with the extroverts in the room first. Befriending someone who is already great at making conversation can make the task that much easier for you.
Keep in mind that conversation is a two-way street. Don't just talk at people; engage those around you. Ask questions. The best way to break the ice in any situation is to get someone talking about themselves. So ask about their career, hobbies and ambitions, and before you know it, the conversation is well under way.
Put on your best face
Another big part of networking - being the best version of yourself? As corny as is sounds, try your hardest to be the kind of person you would want to work with.
Be confident in yourself, reliable and sociable. The more someone likes you as a person when they meet you, the more likely they will take an interest in your skills and abilities in the workplace. As Lora says, the more someone is invested in you, the more they will want to help and the easier it will be to reach out to them when the time comes.
"The reason you want to reach out to people who are invested in you is because everyone likes to be a hero. No one wants to be more than a hero," she says. So when networking, try to build more than contacts; try to make friends. When your network is invested in you, it is that much easier to make it work for you.
Go to the bar
Have we mentioned that you should be introducing yourself to everyone? A great way to make contacts and meet people is to simply hang out with those in your office. If your building is holding a social gathering, go and make friends. If your coworkers are venturing out for a drink, tag along and get to know them better.
The more sociable you are with people in your workplace, the more comfortable the office atmosphere will be, and who knows, you may meet someone in your office who can make all the difference in your future there.
Know your pitch
Meeting new people and striking up conversation can be awkward, but you should never lose sight of your goal. If you are looking for people to network with, don't waste their time or yours by rambling. Of course, you want to get to know them and be friendly, so casual conversation is a must. However, you should also make sure to get your pitch in somewhere, so they know exactly what you are looking for.
Prepare yourself for a good networking experience by preparing your own "elevator pitch". Your pitch should include your professional background and future goals, but keep it concise. There's no surefire way to stop a conversation than going into a monologue.
If you already know how this person can help you, add that into your pitch. For instance, if you are hoping to learn by example and glean information about their experiences, tell them! Know what you are hoping to get out of your networking, and say it out front. No need to beat around the bush. Being honest is the best way to meet your goals.
LinkedIn is your best friend
LinkedIn is a beautiful thing. Most recruiters in the business world today use LinkedIn as a way to vet potential employees. Lora says that her first step every time as a recruiter was to search LinkedIn, so make sure your LinkedIn profile is as sparkling as possible.
But LinkedIn is not just for finding a new job; it is also a great place to connect with other people in your career field. You can search for and connect with people who have the career you want and see the road they had to take to get there. Linking up with all of your former coworkers and friends on LinkedIn is also a great platform for networking.
There is a vast wealth of knowledge on the Internet, and it is not all limited to LinkedIn. Many career fields have their own, specific social network that they like to use to connect with others in a similar line of work. Find out if your career field has a special social or recruiting network online, and take full advantage of it. The more people you can connect with, the more likely you will find someone who can make all the difference.
Make time for face time
Online networking is only one piece of the puzzle, and once you’ve really connected with someone online, don’t let it end there. Set up a time to grab drinks or coffee with one of your contacts. The more you get to know someone, the more they will want to help you in the future.
One neat resource on the internet specifically for networking is NetParty.com, or “The Worldwide Young Professionals Network,” as they call themselves. On NetParty, you can join their community for free and then, once again, look for people in similar career fields. NetParty sets up social and business networking events for members to attend, so it is a great way to get some in-person conversation going, all in a more relaxed setting. Just don’t forget your business cards!
Use your contacts
The entire point of networking is to build up important contacts that could one day help you, but you’ve got to wonder: in what situation could I use contacts I’ve made?
If you are confused about what path to take to get the career you want, try to connect with someone you aspire to be. Then, one way you can use that contact is to see how they did it. Ask what advice they would give someone in your shoes, just starting out.
If, instead, you are wanting to change jobs or careers, find someone who perhaps recruits in a field you want and make friends. Like we said, the more someone likes you, the more they will feel motivated to help you reach your goals. Use that sparkling personality to your advantage!
Maybe you’re hoping to climb that corporate ladder in your current business. Socialize with coworkers in positions above you, or with the people in human resources. When the time comes, these contacts can help you move on up to that position you’ve been dreaming of.
Follow up with people
After that first set of emails or that first encounter at an event, don't let your contacts fall off your radar. Keep in contact with everyone and anyone you think could be useful to know. Shoot them an email, follow them on twitter and LinkedIn, or invite them out for drinks every once in a while. Keep your contacts invested in you, and when the time comes, they will be more than willing to help you out.
It's a two way thing
Networking is not all about what other people can do for you. Think of ways that you can help out your contacts in the long-run as well. Don't let your networking experience be a one sided thing. By helping out others in any way you can, you are ensuring that good things will come your way.
It can be daunting initially, but the key to really building up your contacts is confidence. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, try to meet as many people as possible in your career field and when the time comes, you will have all the resources you need.
Do you have any other tips for building up your career network? Tweet us @wewomenCA