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Building your network isn’t about figuring out what people can do for you. It’s about first determining how you can help others.
What to do—and not to do—when connecting professionally
Whether you’re looking for your first job or hoping to move on to your next one, your professional network is the secret weapon to get your resume the attention it deserves.
That’s because in this day and age, when computers are the first “eyes” on a job application, a personal connection gives you an advantage.
“When you apply online for a job now your resume may not rise to the top because you’re using the wrong key words,” says Dave Delaney, author of New Business Networking. “It’s so important to grow your network now before you actually need it so that when you do need a network, it’s there for you.”
A survey by recruiting firm Jobvite shows that four in 10 job seekers found their favorite positions through personal connections. Recruiters, too, say personal referrals result in the highest-quality hires.
“Networking is one of the most important things you can do to have job security in the future,” says Porter Gale, author of Your Network is Your Net Worth. “You have to keep connecting. Networking puts you in control.”
Here are 10 ways to build your professional network.
1. Give before you take. Whether at a mixer, an industry conference or through social media, your primary thought shouldn’t be, “Who can get me my next job or promotion?” Instead, think: “How can I help you?” “If you’re going out of your way to help others, then when you ask for a favor later down the road, people are much more likely to help out,” says Delaney.
2. Interact with people on social media. Your number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers or LinkedIn contacts mean little if you’re not commenting, re-Tweeting or congratulating them regularly. “It’s really important to have strong relationships with people,” says Delaney. “And in order to do that, you need to be listening—both in person and online—and interact with people frequently.”
3. Be picky. The big-name colleague with a million Twitter followers is less likely to be a good professional connection than the person with a small but cultivated following. Invest your networking time with people who are equally interested in connecting with you.
4. Follow up. You meet at a conference. Then what? “The fortune is in the follow-up,” says Sandy Jones-Kaminski, chief connecting officer with Bella Domain Media. Email them within a week with a piece of information or a contact that might be of help.
5. Shake it up. Industry colleagues aren’t the only people to network with. Meetup.com allows you to connect with others who share your outside-work interests. “I’m a frequent traveler and I’ll say hello to people,” says Gale. “I’ve made good contacts just by being open and receptive.”
6. Volunteer. Whether it’s your alumni association, professional association or local library, don’t just be another body in a chair. Find out what the organization needs and how you can help.
7. Be strategic. “I’m a big believer in strategically building your network,” says Gale. If the conference has an attendee list, Google the names and pinpoint who you are interested in meeting. If you’re on Twitter, Delany recommends using FollowerWonk to search Twitter bios to find influencers in your industry.
8. Introverted? Use that to your advantage. “Introverts can be the best networkers,” says Jones-Kaminski. “They're listeners. So go into these things with some mojo. You have it. You know inherently how to have a quality conversation.”
9. Grab a pen. Follow up with a hand-written thank-you note instead of just a hastily typed email, says Gale. It’ll ensure you’re remembered.
10. Bring your connections to you. Jones-Kaminski hosts regular “Pay it Forward” parties. Held at a restaurant or bar, the only rule is “you have to be willing to help someone else first.” By hosting, you get to easily meet all the attendees and you can be the facilitator hooking up people with like interests, a favor that will be looked upon fondly. “I always pick a place with great food and during happy hour so you make it cheap for people to come,” she says. “Put it on your LinkedIn profile that you host these events. Employers want to know that you have a network of people through which you can get things done.”
Reach out to others, figure out how you can help them and most of all, get your name and face out there. When the time comes for you to start looking for your next opportunity, it might come easier than you’d think.
Cynthia Ramnarace is an independent journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in Reader’s Digest and O, the Oprah Magazine. Learn more about her at cynthiaramnarace.com.