Building a strong professional network can be invaluable for your career. Consider these nine tips to strengthen your network.
The relationships you build through professional networking can be an essential piece of your career development. Most prominently, your network can be your work-related support system. You can go to these people when you want to discuss industry trends and news. Your network can also be valuable when considering career advancement, from recommendations for skills you should sharpen to securing an actual position.
We all have different preferences when it comes to the way we build and nurture relationships. Here are nine networking tips to help you create a network that will work for you:
The first stage of building your network is figuring out the makeup of the network you want to develop. Consider the outcomes that will be most exciting for you. From there, focus your networking efforts on activities, groups, and people that are most likely to bring you closer to your goals.
It can help to shape your network around your long-term career goals. For example, if your career goal is to secure a promotion, you may want a network of organizations that arrange development opportunities for people in your industry and individuals in a position to recommend you for an open role within their company.
Learn more: What Are Your Career Goals? Tips for Setting Your Goals
Unlike mentorship, your network is a reciprocal relationship. This means in addition to benefiting from your network, there’s an expectation that your network will benefit from you in return. Knowing your value can be a helpful confidence booster when building new relationships.
As you think about the type of network you want to build, consider the access, insights, and skills that you feel comfortable offering to members of your network. Additionally, consider which offers may entice the type of people you hope to bring into your network. For example, perhaps you can lend your social media skills to the organization you wish to join when they promote their next networking event.
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As you conceive of the network you want to build, make a list of the people you consider to be thought leaders in your field. Include anyone in your industry whom you admire—influencers who provide strong industry analysis, business leaders with career paths you’d like to follow, or individuals currently working in roles you aspire to.
While you may not reach out to the people on this list directly, take note of each person's organizations, communities, and affiliations. These may be helpful starting points as you prepare to connect with new and existing contacts.
You may already know people who can be valuable additions to your network. Viable candidates for your network can include people you went to school with, have worked with, or have met socially who work in the same industry as you (or the industry you aspire to work in).
All you need to do to transition those relationships to professional ones is strike up a conversation about your shared professional interests. If the other person seems receptive, great news: you’ve just established a professional contact.
If you aren’t sure how to reignite a relationship, try something casual and straightforward, like, “Hi Lucy! Hope you’ve been well. It’s been a minute! Are you still pursuing your cybersecurity certification? I just transitioned into a new role at CyberSecure Industries and would love to catch up. Any interest in grabbing coffee sometime in the next couple of weeks?”
In addition to the people you already know, think about who you want to know and can reasonably get to know. These would typically be people you have a loose connection with already: colleagues you haven’t interacted with much, people you’ve seen at various industry events, or second-degree contacts (meaning friends of friends).
To help you stay organized, list out these potential contacts and include ideas on how you might be able to get in touch with them, whether that’s through direct outreach or by asking a mutual connection to send a letter of introduction.
The possibilities for growing your network exist far beyond the people you already know and know of. Many people meet new contacts through professional groups, which may come together for social hours, panels, webinars, or other events aimed at career development.
As you identify the groups you may want to join, consider the types of spaces you feel most comfortable socializing in. You can likely find active online communities or in-person organizations dedicated to connecting and advancing your industry through an online search or by asking friends and colleagues about groups they engage with. This is also a great time to revisit the list of affiliations you noted when you compiled your list of thought leaders.
Once you identify the groups you want to join, search their websites and social media profiles for new member information or open events. Many organizations are volunteer-run, so you may be able to accelerate networking possibilities by volunteering for an event or committee.
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Practicing how you’ll introduce yourself is one way to ease nerves as you prepare to enter new professional environments and meet new people. (Reinforcing to yourself all you have to offer and what you stand to gain is another.)
Your delivery may change depending on the person you’re reaching out to and your outreach method—via email, social media, or in person—but the information you share will be pretty consistent. When you meet someone new, be prepared to discuss the following:
Who you are and what you do
What you want to learn more about
What you can offer in exchange
How you’d like to move forward
Saying hi is the starting point for many relationships—which can require some vulnerability. However, fueled by the knowledge of what you want and are prepared to offer, you’re ready to start reaching out and building connections.
Your relationships will grow over time, but your initial outreach can help set the tone for the type of relationship you hope to build. Networking relationships typically fall somewhere between casual friendships and formal work relationships (like the one you might have with your boss or your company’s CEO, for example). That can be a vast spectrum, and you can use your own comfort levels and judgment to gauge the balance that feels most natural for you.
Casual outreach can be walking up to a stranger at a networking event and simply introducing yourself: “Hi, I’m Jean. This is my first time at an Emerging Marketing Professionals event. Have you been to any of their panels?”
Formal outreach might be sending a Slack message to a coworker you’d like to get to know: “Hi Rohit! I’m on the social media team and really enjoyed your presentation on the new app design for the upcoming product launch. I’d love to learn more about your UX design process. We can also discuss how our social media team can help highlight key app features upon launch. Any chance you have time for a 25-minute meeting over the next few weeks?”
You don’t have to become best friends with every person in your network, but to maintain networking relationships, it’s important to invest in them. Some things you can do to stay in touch with your contacts include:
Exchanging business cards
Following up after you meet someone new
Suggesting a time to catch up
Inviting someone to a networking event you’re planning to attend
Offering introductions between two people in your network
Making yourself available when someone asks to connect with you
Career paths can feel unpredictable at times, and you can’t fully know what type of support you may want or need from your network in the future. Staying engaged with your network and remaining open to new possibilities can set you up with a professional support system that you can call upon during any time of need.
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To build skills specific to your career in data science, IT, business, or marketing, consider earning a Professional Certificate from industry leaders like Google, Meta, and IBM. Check out Career Academy to explore your options, and sign up today for a free 7-day trial.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.