Networking is critical to your career. Connections can give you career advice, point you towards opportunities, and help you obtain job offers. In order to utilize a strong network, you have to start building it before the need arises. The earlier you begin the better. And despite what people think, getting started is easier than it seems.
Networking myth busting
First off, let’s dispel a fear. You don’t need to be an extrovert to build a network. When most people think of networking, they think of being thrown into a giant room and being expected to connect with a bunch of people. NOPE! That sounds both intimidating, awkward, and scary, especially if you’re in introvert like me.
Second, it can be uncomfortable to introduce yourself to new people or ask for help. But you need to realize that most people are happy to help or share advice – especially with college students and young professional.
Creating a network can also feel overwhelming. But remember that it’s something you build over time through fairly simple tasks.
How to start building your network
Take the steps below to start building your network.
- Networking = Befriending: If you network with people merely as a means to advance your career, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Many people forget that “networking” is the cold, short way of saying “becoming friends with people in a professional setting”. Plus, people are much more willing to help a friend than a random parasitic “connection” who is only looking to for the quick hit of advancement.
- Be prepared to network: You never know when you may meet someone interesting, so be ready. Have a quick elevator pitch of yourself and your professional goals and interests ready to discuss. Have your LinkedIn profile built and up-to-date so that if someone looks you up, they can find you.
- Begin with people you already know: Start connecting with family, friends, neighbors, classmates and colleagues by adding them on LinkedIn, discussing your professional interests with them, and asking for professional advice.
- Ask your current connections for referrals: Ask your contacts to introduce you to people they know that could be helpful for you to speak with. For example, your professors have industry connections, your career services office can point you towards alumni, and your friends may have parents in careers you are interested in.
- Set up informational interviews: Connect with people to set up an informational interview. This is NOT a job interview. It is an informal conversation about your career goals, your field of interest, and any advice the contact has to offer you. Speaking with a person for 30 minutes over coffee can give you better insights than hours of online research – and will strengthen your network.
- Leverage online networking tools: Online tools help you easily find people such as those you meet at events, alumni with jobs you are interested in, and contacts you have been referred to. Creating a LinkedIn profile and keeping it up to date is critical to effective networking. You can also participate in industry discussions and follow industry leaders on tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Get involved: One of the best ways to find new connections is actually meeting people. Get an internship, talk with your professors, start a club, volunteer, join a professional organization, attend networking events, and go to job fairs. And then take advantage of the opportunities you have to build relationships with new people from your professional, academic, and extracurricular activities.
- Connect with a variety of people: Don’t limit your contacts to just people who do exactly what you want to do. People with different backgrounds will strengthen your network in different ways. For example, I connected/became friends with a videographer years ago. At the time, our professional interests had zero correlation. However, this friend has since been a huge help as we get the videos for Wisdify up and running.
- Re-connect and build mutually beneficial relationships: Rather than trying to just have as many connections as possible, take time to strengthen connections – especially those who become mentors. Forward interesting articles, exchange updates, offer help, and be responsive. These relationships shouldn’t just be about you and your needs, so reciprocate and stay in contact periodically (i.e., not just when you need something).
As you can see, it is not that scary to build a network. In fact, building a network should feel very comfortable to you, although it still takes effort. However, that effort will pay off big time when it comes to moving ahead in your career.