Creating a strong network is still one of the most underestimated tools to help you in your career advancement. Not as glamourous as social media and without the instant gratification of social networks, “traditional” networking is often forgotten as a source of real value. Do not be deceived – building a valuable network regardless of how you do it is hard work that requires time, patience, and practice. Here are some simple steps to help you you jumpstart, or reinvigorate, the process.
Start Today! The best time to start building your network is as early as you possibly can. Building a strong network takes time. The earlier you start, the greater likelihood you will have a network that can help get you where you want to go when you need help most.
Network actively. One would think that this point is obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don’t take action. If you want to build a great network, you need to be deliberate. Get comfortable talking about yourself and what you do. How do you do this? Do it often. Attend networking events in your area, join professional organizations, volunteer, talk to people who are in positions you aspire to, and reach out to your school alumni. These are a few ways you can be assertive in building your network.
Create a professional profile on a networking site such as Linkedin. Think of it as your digital rolodex – It can be extremely useful in maintaining current connections, reestablishing old ones, and discovering past connections that you may have overlooked. Be sure to keep your profile updated when you switch jobs or become involved in new activities. Facebook and Twitter have also become acceptable networking platforms in some professions, so take advantage of that if it is industry appropriate.
Seek and develop genuine and diverse relationships. Make the effort to cultivate relationships that will last. Make sure to continue fostering the relationships you already have by keeping your contacts apprised of any professional or life changes.This is where social media can be a great resource in reminding people what you are doing. Similarly, make the effort to express your care and support for your connections. Sending holiday cards, birthday wishes, or congratulations, are all simple ways to do this.
Consider how you are benefiting the other party. What is it that you can offer the person you are trying to connect with? When approaching someone to make a connection or ask a favor, can you offer something in return? A one-sided interaction is not a relationship. This principle applies to your entire network as well. The strongest networks are those where mutual development is taking place.
In addition, check out this paper by Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap, which discusses networking strategy and strengthening connections. It includes a personal exercise for you to diagnose the type of network you have and whether your network is reaching its maximum potential.