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Networking is a critical skill to develop and an important tool in your professional toolbox. Whether you’re currently employed, unemployed, switching industries, or otherwise progressing on your current track, networking will provide countless opportunities throughout your career. Building relationships through connections enables us to meet new people, link up with mentors, learn about new industries, and develop unexplored opportunities. Let’s consider several essential tips for networking and turning connections into opportunities.
It’s important to start here: there’s no secret to networking. Connecting with people takes time, intentional effort, and consistency and it requires you to be courageous, patient, and diligent. It’s an organic process, not a formula. You can start from anywhere at anytime (and you’re probably already doing it.)
You might be surprised how many people you know. Think beyond just colleagues and acquaintances and consider close friends, family members, community connections, and even people you admire from afar. Some of those people are experts, some are Renaissance people, and some are natural connectors, eager to connect others and offer value to both sides. As you start to brainstorm what your network looks like, be sure to consider what you're looking for and what you may have to offer folks in return.
Networking is all about building relationships, so it's essential to be present and engaged during meetings. Take note of details like hobbies, family, and upcoming events to get below the surface and plant seeds for future conversations. Be sure that you’re prepared for the meeting, as well as calm, focused, and actively listening throughout the conversation.
After a meeting, it’s important to follow up with your new connection, even if you can't see instant value in the relationship. At a bare minimum, you should always thank them for their time and offer positive feedback on the conversation. Additionally, you might plant a seed for a future meeting, or find an easy way to stay in touch, such as social media. This will allow you to stay in the loop, check in, and celebrate their wins down the road.
Knowing what you're looking for is crucial when networking; you won’t always find it but the journey will be much easier with a clear map. Not every connection will be a perfect fit, so it’s important to consider alternative requests and offers, too. It’s rare for someone to offer you a perfect job from one meeting – that’s why this is about relationship building. Maybe your new connection would make a good coach, maybe they have advice on breaking into a new industry, or maybe they need an administrative assistant and you need an excuse to get in the door.
Networking is non-linear and ideally, it’s mutually beneficial. You want to remain aware of what you have to offer and what a first step could look like. Let’s say you have a connection that would be a great mentor, and they want to teach you – you should take advantage of that! Maybe that means you take on a freelance project or an entry-level position. Once you have a foot in the door, you can build relationships, learn the business or industry, and start cultivating future opportunities.
Finally, remember that networking takes time and consistency. It's not a one-and-done meeting that leads to a job offer. Building relationships takes time, patience, and personal investment. Keep in touch with your connections, fill gaps in your network, engage in social opportunities, and continue to follow up with people that align with your career path and future goals.
In conclusion, networking is an essential component of your career growth and success. By following these tips and being intentional in your efforts, you can build a strong professional network and turn connections into opportunities that move you forward. Remember to stay patient, stay engaged, and keep an open mind – you never know when someone will think “I have the perfect person for this!”.