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.  

Online

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.

Creating an Effective Elevator Speech

Do you know how to market yourself? Do you have your elevator speech down pat and can adjust it as appropriate for different situations? Here’s how we helped one of our employees as well as some tips to help you master marketing yourself.

A friend asked how to market himself. He knew what he did for his previous company, but he wasn’t really sure his passion was being translated in his elevator speech so he could find his next opportunity. While listening to his elevator speech, we agreed-no passion. We recommended he talk about the topic first, skills second, actual job third, and then what he wanted to do next. Check this out…”I am very passionate about cancer research, our team works to raise funding for large community events throughout the country. Specifically, I manage those teams and build relationships with vendors to support activities the day of the event. I would like these skills to translate into performing fund raising activities for hospitals or cancer centers internationally.”

Here are a few more tips to master your elevator speech.

- Speak with passion! Potential employers or friends of friends want to understand what lights your fire, what makes you excited about your job and what will excite you about future opportunities. Don’t be blasé.

- Remember practice makes perfect. Call a friend that will be honest, practice your elevator speech in front of them, ask for constructive feedback, and adjust as necessary.

- Know your audience. If you are speaking to the CEO of a major corporation you want to work for, talk about the impact of major projects you have worked on, or if you are talking to an HR professional ask about staffing gaps in their organization.

The more comfortable you are with your elevator speech, the better you will be at marketing yourself. Continue to be charismatic and passionate and you will be on the right track!

Keep Your Eyes Open

I started the job that I thought would begin and define a career path for me about eight years ago. I was sure I’d be there for a long time so I did not spend time thinking about my next move. When I felt it was time to move on, I did not know where to begin the search. I was not sure about what I wanted to do. I began searching my alma mater’s alumni directory for people working in fields I thought I may want to try. After a lot of phone and email conversations I knew I wanted to pursue strategy consulting and get my MBA.

The job I landed next was not in strategy consulting, but I did start a part-time MBA program. But I had learned my lesson: always be on the lookout for new opportunities. I didn’t have time to look at job boards every week or to attend all networking events or job fairs, but I did attend whenever I could. Those events can be incredibly energizing and can give you new contacts which could lead to a job as one did for me.

The most important thing I’ve found is to be open to trying new things, including attending events and meeting new people. You never know where it can take you, even if it is an unplanned path. When I look back now, even though I have not stayed in one particular field or industry, I can see a thread between my jobs, even if it’s not between consecutive ones. My diverse career interests have been fulfilled in unexpected ways.

One way to stay on the lookout for jobs is to subscribe to job feeds in local online papers and major job sites. You can set up a job search on each site in which you’re interested and you can request an email daily, weekly or even bi-monthly so the search is done for you!

How do you learn about new opportunities?