Landing a new job rarely ends with a job board. It may come in handy for your first job, and maybe even your second, but anyone looking to grow in a career is likely missing out on opportunities when relying solely on boards. In fact, anywhere from 70 percent to 80 percent of jobs are never published.
Instead, the majority of your time should be devoted to networking. Networking broadens your thinking, sharpens your communication skills, gets you physically in front of decision-makers, expands your professional horizons, and is one of the easiest ways to get your resume to the top of the pile.
It also keeps you current with what’s going on in your industry. When something new develops, you can be quick to react by either adding to your skill set or jumping at that new opportunity.
So, how exactly do you build a professional network effectively? Here are eight networking secrets:
- Think strategically. Many professionals focus networking efforts within a field or industry. While a good place to start, this limits reach. Before adding connections, think about any gaps in your existing network and branch out to add some strategic diversity. A diverse network expands your access to not only resources and people but new opportunities and markets.
- Grow on purpose. There’s a common misconception that a larger network increases the odds of success. But you only have so many hours in the day to cultivate your professional relationships. Determine exactly how many connections you can comfortably handle, and then purposely build a network that complements your needs and skills.
- Take on a host’s mindset. Once at an event, don’t think of yourself as an attendee. Think of yourself as the host, and that it’s your responsibility to make everyone comfortable. It’s odd how this approach will make you more comfortable introducing yourself to strangers. In turn, you’ll appear more confident and create a more memorable impression.
- Focus on the relational aspects. Networking is more about building relationships than doing actual business (business is simply a by-product). Keep your interactions conversational. Ask questions and listen to replies — “listen” being the operative word here. People prefer to do business with other professionals who are genuinely interested in their needs.
- Follow up with new connections. When you’ve made a new connection, ask for the best way to stay in touch. Even if you’ve exchanged business cards (have plenty on hand), not everyone wants an email or a phone call. Some people prefer you use a social channel, like LinkedIn. Then, reach out within 48 hours, and try to refer to something discussed during the conversation. It’ll help jog their memory.
- Look for ways to help. Helping others succeed improves the likelihood of your own success. Look for ways to add value to others in your network. Offer advice, send them business, and act as a bridge for your connections. Remember, your network is actually made up of several other networks, and you could be the key to someone else’s success.
- Nurture existing relationships. Networking is an ongoing process, not just an accumulation of professional connections. Schedule time throughout the month to reach out to your network and maintain contact regularly. If things were to go south in your occupational pursuits, that call for help will be much easier to make when it’s not out of the blue.
- Leverage social channels. With social channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s never been easier to keep current with what’s going on in your network. If you’re not already on these channels, set up accounts, especially on LinkedIn. Check them often, update with regularity, and respond to others’ successes.
By focusing on developing a community and building actual relationships with your network, you’ll find yourself with more opportunities to grow in a career — not to mention, enjoying the actual networking process. It just takes a little time, effort, and patience, but your investment will eventually pay off.