There is no skill you can learn in higher education or the workforce that is more professionally valuable in today’s job market than simple networking.
The art of networking successfully is likely to land you more opportunities, more jobs and a far greater percentage of your income in your lifetime than any degree or amount of experiential influence will. For this reason, it is imperative to make networking one of the key components of your career development plan.
Focus your attention on growing your network as broadly as possible. Leave business cards in every store you enter, and in the hands of every professional you meet. Be friendly and engaging with everyone you meet, for you never know who a person might be, or who he or she knows. Appearances can be deceiving; the smartly dressed executive might never be of use to you in your career, but the maid at the hotel you stayed in last week might be. Talk to everybody. Proper networking is all about relationships. Make a habit of forming solid, strong and giving relationships with members of your network, and watch your career and life opportunities blossom – exponentially – as a result.
One of the major benefits of the internet age is the way it has allowed people to group together in easy and highly accessible ways. Whether you are just beginning a job search, or if you are a seasoned industry veteran, you can build your professional network quickly and effectively simply by joining social media or online job board groups relating to your interests. Perhaps your degree is in advertising, but you really want to work with horses; look around on your favorite social media sites or apps for horse-based groups and clubs to join. While you are making those connections, you never know where or when your advertising skills might be just what someone is looking for, and then, down the road, that person you helped will be more inclined to offer you the position at the equine charity you were not aware he or she sponsored.
Networking operates in mysterious ways. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is thinking that the dots are going to connect in a linear way. For example, just because you gain familiarity with a founding partner at a law firm while you are pursuing a career in criminal justice does not necessarily mean you have an automatic “in” with a major company in your industry. However, that lawyer’s secretary (whom you barely took down the name of) may admire your diligence and mention you to someone in her own network, and the next thing you know, you are receiving an unexpected phone call about a job opportunity. You can grow your network by joining:
The No. 1 rule of networking is to discredit absolutely no one. You never know who somebody else knows, or what kind of connections they have. Talk to everyone, and make friends with as many people in as many different categories of employment as you can possibly find. It is impossible to predict how someone may be able to help you, or how you to be of service to him or her in the near or distant future.
Typically, when you are participating in a networking event, or even just meeting someone unexpectedly during a different type of endeavor, you can and should exchange business cards, if possible. If you do not have a business card handy, or if the other person does not, make sure to write all of his or her information down, and send an email soon after to reconnect while the meeting is still fresh. Find a creative and useful way to store your business cards. Some ideas include:
It is important that you devise a system that works for you so that you are never searching very long for a contact in your network. The more organized you can be with filing away your business cards and other contact information, the easier it will be for your network to serve you.
Remember that a professional network is not just for finding a job. It is for knowing what plumber to call at 3 a.m. when a pipe bursts in your bathroom. It is for a counseling referral in a time of need, etc. Once you have established a workable organization system for the contacts in your network, start figuring out how you can first be useful to them.
Are your skills needed in any area of their businesses that you can suggest? Do you notice any ways in which you might b able to help them with any other aspect of their lives? Volunteer yourself, offer your time and extend communications, even when you have nothing to say but a quick “Hello”.
The only way to maintain a useful professional network is to sustain healthy relationships with the people in it. If you only contact the members of your network when you need or want something, they are likely to view you less as a trusted colleague and more as a tiresome chore. This will not advance your career or make your job search any easier.
Create the goal of becoming the person that everyone in your network refers to warmly and thinks of kindly. This means that you will be at the top of everyone’s list when desirable opportunities for employment and other life-enriching options arise.
The golden rule of networking is the same as it is for everything else: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you make a professional contact and that contact hires you to furnish a certain set of skills for a project, make sure you follow through and deliver. Make the quality of your work your calling card. Make your work the gold standard in your area. Your network will widen without you even trying as word of mouth regarding your reliability, work ethic and principles spread.
Remember that your good name and the generosity that you show with your own time create your reputation amongst your network, and that your reputation is everything, in terms of getting where you want to be, professionally. Never ask any member of your network for anything, unless you have offered something first. This is not only good etiquette, but good business practice.
Make your endeavors and business ventures interesting. It is difficult to ask for funding or support for a project that no one is passionate about. Keep the members of your network informed of your big-picture career goals and plans. You never know when they might stumble upon funding or administrative avenues that you might never see. If you do not freely share your visions with your network, your contacts cannot help you obtain them, and this is what networking is truly about; the honorable achievement of your professional aims and life goals.