Building a strong professional network can be the key to unlocking valuable opportunities and advancing your career. The question is, where do you start?
For students and early-career professionals, there’s no better time than now to start forging meaningful connections. In this post, we’ll explore various types of networking and provide tips to help you make the most of each interaction.
Why is networking a valuable activity and skill?
As you prepare to embark on your professional journey, networking can give you access to a wealth of knowledge, opportunities, and resources that may otherwise stay hidden. A solid network can differentiate successful candidates from their equally qualified peers, as many employers increasingly value interpersonal skills and personal recommendations.
According to a survey from 2011, just 26% of respondents said that networking opportunities were very important for their career. However, more recent data shows that this is absolutely true. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows having more connections directly correlates to high-quality job offers. If you don’t network, you could miss out on the perfect job.
6 effective networking strategies to consider
Ready to try out networking for yourself? Use these ideas to spark inspiration and find a method that will work for you.
1. Join professional organizations
Joining a group related to your field is an excellent way to meet like-minded individuals, and gain access to valuable resources. To make the most of your membership, contribute to discussions, and look for ways to share your skills.
For example, if you’re an aspiring marketing professional, join the American Marketing Association (AMA). You can attend local chapter events and webinars and participate in workshops to make connections.
2. Attend in-person events
Networking events, like conferences, workshops, and career fairs, offer a platform for professionals to connect and share ideas. To make a lasting impression, actively engage with others, ask open-ended questions, and listen attentively.
3. Participate in online networking
Social media platforms like LinkedIn and industry-specific forums can help you expand your network and access career opportunities. Create a professional and polished online presence to stand out. Then instead of just scrolling through your feed, connect with people in your field and engage with their content.
4. Conduct interviews
Once you get a good sense of the landscape and find some people who are doing well in your field, reach out to them. Ask these professionals if they would be open to having a chat with you about what they do and how they got there.
When you successfully schedule an interview, you can start preparations so that it goes well. Come up with thoughtful questions about their career journey and ask for advice they might have for someone in your position.
Consider lending your time to events or causes related to your industry. This demonstrates your commitment to your field and creates opportunities for networking. Those strong connections may lead to future collaborations, recommendations, or job prospects.
If you’re interested in the tech industry, volunteer at local hackathons or coding bootcamps. Offer your skills as a mentor or even an event organizer. This will help you establish your reputation with others in the community.
6. Get in touch with alumni
Alumni networks serve as a rich resource for insights into the job market, industry trends, and potential work. All from an institution you know and trust, along with people who share your educational background.
Do some digging to find out what your school has for alumni. From there, you can make contact with the right people and start using what they offer to kickstart your career. Your alumni association can serve as a helping hand in your job search.
How to establish a meaningful relationship with your connections
Knowing that you need to build a network is just the beginning. Making a good first impression and nurturing those relationships is crucial for long-term success. Here’s how you can do this the right way.
When attending networking events or engaging with professionals online, always be respectful and considerate of others’ time. Also, express your appreciation when they offer thoughtful insights and advice.
Picking the conversation up again is essential to solidify any connections you make at an event. Send personalized emails or messages within a week of meeting and mention specific details you remember.
Maintain your network
Findings from LinkedIn show that 79% of professionals say networking is valuable for career progression. Despite that, less than half say they keep in touch with their network when things are going well in their career. Remember to keep in touch with your connections through regular check-ins, sharing relevant articles, or congratulating them on their achievements.
By leveraging the power of networking and keeping your connections top of mind, you can build meaningful relationships that open doors to new opportunities. Now it’s your turn. Get out there, start connecting, and watch your professional network grow. If you’re looking for more advice on navigating the early stages of your career, learn how to take advantage of new opportunities next.