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How to Build a Professional Network

You’ve heard the phrase when it comes to job searching, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Though it might seem completely self-serving and absurd, the adage is often proved true.

The importance of having a professional network has been reiterated over the last few years, probably due to the recession. Often companies don’t post jobs online and usually referrals take precedence over those who have just applied with a resume and cover letter. This doesn’t mean networking alone is your ticket to a job: networking is just a part of what successful professionals do.

Professional networks often develop naturally over time—you meet lots of people over the course of your working life—but how can you nurture your network? Attend conf

erences, networking cocktail hours, tradeshows? LinkedIn request everyone you could possibly want to know?

Think of networking as friends who are willing to help each other professionally. Bare bones, that’s the definition. It’s a tough job market, so we’ve got some tips to keep in mind while building a well-rounded network.

You need variety.

There’s no one type of person that should make up your network, as Tai Goodwin points out on Forbes.com. You want mentors, coaches, realists, partners, protégés, trendsetters, and industry experts in your network so you can draw on a variety of people for opinions and insights.

Instead of seeking to find every single person who is known for being very knowledgeable about your industry, try to mix it up and maybe not reach out to the most well-known person, but try someone else who could add value to your professional world.

Keep in touch.

This tip may seem counterintuitive, but often we focus on collecting the business cards and building the rolodex (or now the LinkedIn connections), rather than forging relationships with people. Networking is a lot like making friends—it takes dedication, work, and time to forge fruitful connections. And when you finally find professionals you click with or found interesting in some way, make sure to nurture the connection: don’t automatically assume they’ll remember you or remember to follow up!

When you are introduced to someone at an event or through another person, it’s a good idea to follow-up within 24 hours. Make sure you remind them of where you met and maybe throw in a bit about what you talked about. It doesn’t have to be long, just a quick note so they know that you appreciated meeting them. Sending an update every three or four months keeps the connection solid. Tips: be genuine! It’s more important to foster a relationship than just figure out what you can get from someone.

Give back.

Networking is built on the foundation of connecting people. If you never connect others to people you know, why should you expect people to connect you to their colleagues? Part of cultivating a network is helping others to cultivate theirs. Maybe they know someone you want to meet or could benefit from meeting. Or maybe they’ll introduce you to someone down the road that will become a great connection.

When presented the opportunity to introduce people, do it. It’s as simple as sending a joint email to both parties with short introductions. Let them take it from there. People will remember your willingness to help and be a resource—and they’ll be sure to want to repay the debt sometime.

Building a network shouldn’t be terrifying. There are so many ways to connect and keep in touch with others now, keeping that professional network in top notch shape should be a cinch!

P.S. Be sure to add us on LinkedIn if you have a networking account there! We love connecting with new people!

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