Networking is more than a numbers game. Savvy professionals who put the time and effort into networking don’t mistake quantity for quality. They understand that having the right contacts and nurturing key relationships will more likely lead to a future job opportunity. So how do you get the advantage of quality contacts into your network? Start by keeping these helpful tips and reminders in mind.
Tip #1: Use a balanced clicks and mix” approach. The most successful networkers leverage both online and in-person networking opportunities and are always polite and professional no matter which realm they’re in. While online sites and tools are convenient and effective ways to build your network, it’s equally as important to attend local networking events in person and connect face-to-face. Look at how you’re dividing your networking efforts and see if you need to adjust your approach for better balance. Plus always be sure to ask your contacts how they prefer to stay in touch.
Tip #2: Remember that it’s not all about you. It’s a give and take. Ever help someone with a job lead only to have him or her disappear, or been stalked by someone with a “what’s-in-it-for-me” mindset? If so, helping this person may not be on the top of your to-do list. Networking is an exchange of information, so be sure to make yourself a valuable resource to your contacts. Listen to what your contact does and the challenges he or she faces, and then try to relate your experiences and make yourself useful by providing a solution. For example, if your contact is interested in joining another networking group you’re in, send them a link to the group’s website with a note inviting him or her to attend the next meeting as your guest.
Tip#3: Steal a tip from successful salespeople and pick up the phone! Nobody thinks cold calls are easy, but a call can quickly turn warm when prefaced by another networking encounter (online or in-person). Don’t know what to say? Start by reminding them how your paths have crossed. If you were able to learn how to help them from a previous encounter, mention this and explain that you are following up. Give them your 30-second elevator speech (a quick overview of work history, what you are doing now and what you would like to do next). Finally, ask who they recommend talking with next or if they know anyone at a specific company you are targeting. An old-fashioned phone call is powerful because it can take networking to the next level by building a deeper, more personal connection.
Tip #4: Network every day. Make a commitment to implement a minimum of one networking task a day. This will become a habit and ultimately strengthen your networking skills—and your network. If it helps, “schedule” networking on your calendar just as you would a meeting or project. For example, send an email to a new contact from event last week, attend networking meeting, or call an out-of-touch contact.
Tip #5: Create your own networking group. There will always be hurdles to networking: Expenses like membership fees or travel and inconvenient scheduling can make it difficult to connect with the people you need to know. But to network successfully, you need to find a way around these hurdles. One way is to create your own networking group for professionals in your industry and area.
One final reminder: Expanding your network, like building any good relationship, takes time. Exercising common networking courtesy and helping your contacts will go a long way toward building a strong, mutually beneficial relationship. With a little bit of patience and respectful persistence, what you put into networking will ultimately pay off for you in your professional advancement. Personal branding expert Dan Schawbel says your network is your only insurance policy and sees “people searching” through referrals and social and professional networks as an ever-increasing trend for the future of job hunting. Your network is your number one tool to finding a job—and the support system you need to continually advance throughout your career.