Having a strong network was probably one of the most underestimated tools to help people in their career advancement until the rise of social media in the last decade. Perhaps, in part, the connotation of networking seems to go against the American value that people should pull themselves up from their bootstraps. However, do not be deceived, building a network is hard work that requires time, patience, and practice.
Here are some steps to help you start building a network that will be of greatest benefit in your endeavors:
Start Today! The best time to start building your network is simply, as early as you possibly can. Building a strong network takes time. And, you never know who may become a valuable resource to you in the future, so take the time to build and maintain connections early. 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. This is an obvious one 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 have made it to where you are, and reach out to your school alumni. These are only a few ways you can be assertive in building your network. Get creative; the stranger sitting next to you might be just the person you need. This is also a great way to maintain current connections.
Create an online job profile on a networking site. Sites such as Linkedin can be extremely useful in making new connections and finding connections you may have overlooked. Be sure to keep your profile updated! Facebook and Twitter have also become acceptable networking platforms in some professions, so take advantage of that!
Seek and make genuine relationships. Make the effort to cultivate relationships that will last and help you expand your network outward. Genuine relationships will more likely reap greater rewards than shallow ones. As you continually expand your network, make sure to continue fostering the relationships you already have. Keep people in your network in the loop with any changes, or lack thereof, you may have. This is where social media can be a great resource in reminding people you are still there! 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, make sure you can offer something in return. A one-sided relationship is not a relationship. This principle applies to your network as well. The strongest networks are those where mutual development is taking place.
Diversify. Aim to build a network with people in various professions different from your own. If you only reach out to people within your own field, your network will not be able to expand outward. Further, having a diverse network will offer you support in areas you may not have initially accounted for.
These tips should not only help you get started in building a network, but should help you build a strong network at that. Check out this paper from the Harvard Business Review written 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.
We hope the NEXT for Women community will help you begin to build your network and, in effect, your personal and professional advancement. We are here to support you, so, be bold and start reaching out!