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How to Expand Your Network

Posted by Ashley Preuss

Everyone talks about the value of networking and calling upon your contacts to aid your job search. But what if you haven’t built a network yet, or you failed to stay in touch with past connections? With a variety of networking opportunities available to you, it’s never too late to start—but it will benefit your future job search to lay the foundation now.

Building an expanded industry network is crucial to career success. Heard of the hidden job market? Your network is how you uncover these opportunities and open important doors to support your career trajectory. Build your network or reconnect with past connections today, before you need them tomorrow.

Here’s a list of resources to help you expand and strengthen your network:

Where You Work

Your workplace is a great venue to begin building your network. The colleagues you work alongside can help your job search in the future. Many coworkers will move on to other companies at some point in their career, and they can offer leads and recommendations when they get there. So nurture those relationships now and form lasting impressions. And be sure to stay in touch and connect with your coworkers online to sustain the relationship. This goes for your managers too, as they can be a resource for references.

As you network with those at your workplace, consider stepping outside of your direct unit. This means taking the initiative to get to know the people at your company you don’t directly work with. Find these people orbiting nearby and bring them into your network. This could also include vendors you interact with on the job. You put in the work to land this job, so make the most of it and support your future career endeavors.

Also look back to your previous workplaces. Were there people you previously worked with that you can reach out to? Give them a call or shoot them an email to reconnect and make the relationship active.

Professional Events

Attend professional events and industry meet-ups to get in front of new faces. There are many groups on LinkedIn that meet on a monthly basis to network in casual settings. These local events are a great way to meet other people in your field and the companies that are nearby. As you start showing up in the community, not only will you start recognizing the frequent flyers, but they will also have an awareness of who you are too. Make sure you always come prepared with business cards and follow up with individuals you connected with. You might walk away with twenty new contacts, but it’s up to you to make them meaningful.

Larger scale events like regional or national conferences hold an opportunity to meet a much wider pool of potential contacts. Sit next to someone you don’t know and strike up a conversation between presentations. Ask what brought them to the event or how they enjoyed the talk. Most attendees are there to support their career in some fashion, and networking is a huge part of that. You need them—but guess what? They need you too. So don’t be afraid to put in the work and forge new relationships.

Volunteering

While you might feel uncomfortable starting conversations with total strangers, volunteering at a professional event can help you gain confidence. You’re there with a purpose and you have a built in commonality with a group there – the other volunteers. Even if you just volunteer to work the day of the event, you will get to know the other volunteers and organizers. There’s also typically a happy hour afterwards were you can really get down to business and network with the people you spent the day with.

Volunteering is also a venue for career development, as volunteers take away important nontechnical skills such as teamwork, organizing, planning, and communication. A recent survey found that “95% of survey respondents believe volunteering improves networking and social skills” too. So take advantage of volunteer opportunities in your professional community to advance your career and expand your industry network.

Educational Activities

When you sign up to take a course in your field, your primary objective is some form of continued education. But who’s to say you can’t also make it a networking opportunity? Meeting the people taking that same class or seminar is the cherry on top. Maybe you’re interested in the same certification or new technology. Share notes, form a study group, or find out what other resources they might recommend to support your career development. Networking is a two-way interaction and value can be gained on both sides.

While your continued education efforts can be beneficial, you might also look back to your contacts from college. Don’t discount alumni networking events, as they expose you to people in other industries. You might be presented with a new opportunity you hadn’t even considered.

Job Fairs

When you talk to employers at a career fair you’re not only looking for a job, you’re networking and making connections that will move your job search forward. Approach every employer in the room if time permits. And if you’re standing in line to talk to an employer, strike up a conversation with the other people waiting. While your priority is to speak with employers at a job fair, the other job seekers in attendance are also fair game. Don’t just kill time on your phone when waiting for your next conversation with an employer – make the most of the room and all the people in it.

Social Media

Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and others are useful tools for staying in touch with your network. They also hold the opportunity to connect with people you don’t know yet. Join the groups that pertain to your career, stay on the lookout for upcoming events, and make use of those secondary connections. Someone you’re connected with on LinkedIn might be directly connected to someone employed at a company you’re interested in. This is an opportunity to ask for an introduction or get a referral.

Social media also allows you to engage with the community. Share relevant articles and be an active participant and contributor. See an interesting post from someone you’ve wanted to get in touch with? Comment on their post or ask a question in the comment section to initiate a conversation and get on their radar. It’s okay to send messages to people you haven’t yet met. But be clear in your communications and express the value in connecting. Maybe you saw them speak at a conference and you have an idea to contribute or want to follow up to see what they do next. Don’t connect with people without reason. At the end of the day you’re looking for quality not sheer quantity.

Leverage Your Existing Network

While it’s ideal to get out there and meet new people, don’t overlook those you’ve connected with in the past. Make a plan to reconnect and share your current goals. You can also ask your existing network to help you expand your growing network. You might ask them if they know someone at xyz company that you can reach out to. If so, confirm that it’s okay for you to mention their name when doing so. Be courteous and be sure to show your appreciation by following up. You don’t want to ask them for help and then go silent for another few years.

 As you prepare to expand your network, keep in mind that any gathering or interaction is a possible networking opportunity. Having a network to call upon isn’t a given. It requires effort, dedication, and genuine communication.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 02, 2019 6:58 pm

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