How to Grow Your Professional Network

Do you have a visceral reaction when you hear the word “networking”?

Shhh! I have a secret for you: you have an existing network that you can use.

Start there and watch your network expand – even if you’re an introvert.

 Existing Contacts 

Flip through your phone, email, and LinkedIn contacts. Who do you know who may be able to help you by offering advice and/or introducing you to someone they know?

Make a list of people with whom you want to re-engage, and make a plan for how many people you will reach out to each week. Bonus: you can update your address book or holiday card list simultaneously. Write “outreach” on the calendar and hold yourself to it.

Review each name on the list and make notes about how you know that person, what they currently do (if you are aware), and how they may be able to help you now or in the future. At the same time, consider how you could offer to help them. If you don’t know yet, that's fine. Just keep in mind that at some point you are going to want to offer assistance. It could be as simple as saying, "Please let me know if I can be of help to you." This creates trust and long-lasting relationships that pay dividends in time.

Ease into It

Don’t shoot off your resume and say, “Hey, John, I’m on the job market. Can you help?” Send a personal note that asks John how he is doing and explains your intention. If you’re looking, tell him why and how exactly he can help. If your goal is to eventually ask him to review your resume for open positions or send it to HR, that’s fine, but don’t do it right off the bat.

Are you seeking his advice? Do you want to know if there are job openings at his company that would be a good fit? 

#1 rule: be genuine, because if you feel like you aren't being yourself, the message won't resonate. Tailor every message to each person you send it to; while this seems obvious, most people copy and paste without thought. Here’s what to say:

o   Request a brief email exchange or phone chat and tell John what you want to discuss.

o   Tell him how much you value his insights and advice.

Seek a New Connection

After you’ve exchanged back and forth messages or had a phone call, and you feel comfortable, ask John to recommend one person with whom you should connect. Ask if he prefers to make an introduction or if you can go directly to that person.

Targeted Events

Think broadly when it comes to events because you can benefit from social and professional events. Here are just a few ideas for places you can meet people who may be able to help you in your career, now or in the future.

 o   Neighborhood-based and Meetup groups for sports and social events, including kickball teams, book clubs, and wine nights

o   Special interest professional groups (e.g., women, national security, working dads)

o   Alumni groups for your alma mater, fraternities/sororities, or other programs in which you’ve participated (local or national chapters)

o   Professional associations that attract the types of professionals and/or industries you want to target

Before you go to an event…check out this list of 5 Things You Should Never Do at a Networking Event.  


While in-person networking is always best, you can get very far by making online connections as long as you keep it as meaningful as you would in person.

1. Search on LinkedIn for people with the title, career, and/or in the companies that interest you most (not necessarily senior professionals).

2. When you click “connect” from their profile page, include a message tailored to that person that includes your intention (see notes above under “Existing Contacts”).

3. Don’t impinge on their time; first ask if it would be okay to ask them a few questions via email. 

Nurture Your Network

Just like any relationship of value, you must stay connected and follow up periodically. If you’ve gathered business cards at an event, write a note on the back of the card to remind you where you met along with a detail about your conversation. Include an asterisk for those you feel could be helpful to you. Email the person the following day to tell them how much you enjoyed chatting and reference something that you talked about. If you can help her in some way, mention it.

Don’t only do this with online contacts. Create a reminder in your calendar to reach out every few months to your existing contacts with whom you’ve re-engaged and connections from social events if you don’t see them on a regular basis.

How to Position Yourself for the Top

I see a lot of resumes, typically those of mid- to senior-level professionals from numerous industries. My most common takeaway from their resumes:

“Your resume doesn’t show the strength of your background.”

If you want to get close to or at the C-suite level, it’s not enough to list your accomplishments. Even though you’re often not applying through regular online channels, you must make it clear that you have the skills required for the level you’re targeting.

I’ve worked with many people going for the top, and by focusing on the skills companies look for at those levels, we’ve seen a lot of successes, including a senior director who became the COO of a start-up and the CFO of a small firm who became a VP in a $12B company.

What skills do I need to highlight?

There are three key skills that are almost universally desired in any executive. Other knowledge will be particular to your industry, but can be made explicit when you use examples to support these universal skills. They are:

• Leadership (people, financials, expertise)

• Strategic planning (short- and long-term business plans, innovation/process improvement)

• Change management (communication)

How can you position yourself the right way in your resume?


People management. You usually progress through a career managing your own work to managing projects to overseeing the work of others to direct management of people. If you have not yet managed others directly, you need to highlight the biggest projects and work of others that you’ve managed. If you do supervise others, elaborate on your responsibilities and examples of your management style. Here are some things to consider:

1) Do you coach and mentor your staff on how to improve performance, get promoted, and/or professional development opportunities? Be as specific as possible.

2) Are you evaluating their performance on a regular basis, and in what way? Do you hold regular meetings with individuals and teams to advise them and obtain their feedback?

Financials. There are a number of ways of looking at financial management and leadership. You may be creating budgets and ensuring teams stay within them, or in charge of a business unit, tracking profit and loss. Whatever it is, be clear about what you manage and size. Keep in mind:

1) While the exact numbers are often confidential, you can say “multi-million” or “around” to include an estimate.

2) You can also use percentages to describe increases in sales or profit year-on-year, or the amount of cash you saved by coming in under budget on a project.

Expertise. In many industries, you’d refer to this as thought leadership, but I know a lot of people don’t like that term. What I’m referring to here are opportunities that you have to share your expertise. It could be:

1) informal or formal internal presentations;

2) public speaking engagements;

3) blogs or articles that you author; and/or

4) engagement with C-suite executives (e.g., meetings, briefings, reports).

If you haven’t done these things, think about what issues colleagues approach you about, i.e., for what concerns are they seeking your help?

Strategic planning

Short- and long-term business plans. If you’re involved in meetings and planning for the future of the department or business overall, you’re part of creating business plans. Be as specific as you can about the executives you’re working with and your part in the planning process. Consider:

1) Are you reporting on past performance and recommending future courses of action?

2) Are you analyzing past and current data to inform future plans for the business?

Innovation and process improvement. Innovation is the talk of the town these days, right? It’s just a fancy way of saying bringing new ideas to life. If you’ve introduced new initiatives in your company, describe them. While it’s best to use examples of those that have been implemented successfully, it’s okay to mention those that haven’t yet come to fruition. New ideas could be anything from introducing technical tools to make work more efficient to redesigning the sales process. Typically, these initiatives result in process improvements, which is another way to think about projects you’ve developed and executed.

Change management

Change management is defined as “the discipline that guides how we prepare, equip and support individuals to successfully adopt change in order to drive organizational success and outcomes.” In essence, it’s the management of transformation within a business.

Communication. Besides describing the type of change you’ve managed – it could be anything from implementation of a new software system to merging another company with yours – you should be clear about how you’ve prepared individuals and teams to adopt the change successfully.

1) How did you motivate your teams throughout the process of change?

2) Have you coached and delegated to others to support colleagues during this time of change?

3) How did you continue to inspire your teams to do their best work post-transformation?

4) What are the outcomes of the change (if known)?

Your title and list of accomplishments may make it clear you are executive material, but if someone cannot easily take away from your resume that you have the skills needed at that level, you’ve got some work to do.

If you need help extracting examples of these skills, we ask questions to identify them and then craft the bullets. Set up a free, no obligation consultation by clicking on the button below.