10 Tips for Building Your Professional Network
What’s not to like about networking? Through it, you can have people get you through the daily grind, help you in times of need and hand you opportunities you might not have considered before. All in all, there’s no downside to it!
Well — almost no downside. As with any endeavor, the hardest part of networking is getting started. Unless you’re the type who’s naturally good with people, you might need a tip or two when building your professional network, like the ones you’re about to read in a sec.
Build Your Professional Reputation
People don’t want to rub elbows with just anyone. They want to rub elbows with those who can, or have the potential to, give them something valuable in return — like a bit of reflected glory, for example. So if you want to fall in with the right crowd, you have to be the kind of person they’ll want to sip cocktails with.
Show up early in the office. Meet and exceed performance benchmarks. Learn something new every day. Be cordial, if not kind, to your co-workers. Prove to the people around you that you’re the type of employee who’s not only deserving of a pay raise or promotion, but is also a valuable asset to any company you work for.
Be a Good Conversationalist
Being able to keep up a conversation is a skill. You have to talk enough to look interesting, but also listen enough to seem interested. Luckily, this is something you can learn over time.
Start off with small talk, even if you’re not naturally inclined to it. If the other person isn’t inclined to small talk either, but would rather spend all day talking about their favorite subject, be an active listener. In case the other person doesn’t want to talk or listen at all, don’t push it. Being a conversationalist isn’t just about talking or listening — it’s about “reading” the other person and figuring out the best way to interact with them.
Lend a Helping Hand
Like talking and listening, helping others is also a skill. While some people may appreciate the gesture, others may view it as condescending. Before you lend a hand, assess whether the other person really needs it. If you think they refuse to ask for help out of pride, and not out of self-assurance that they can do it on their own, say something like: “Looks to me like you’re having trouble with that. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Join Professional Organizations
Aside from your office, there are other places where you can connect with fellow industry insiders. For example, if you want to get to know other professionals in education, you have the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). Don’t forget to search for local and regional organizations that match your skills, expertise and interests, as well.
Include a Variety of People in Your Network
It’s tempting to stick only to the people you’re comfortable with. However, if you want to make the most out of your network, being acquainted with those who have different levels of knowledge, experience and expertise is crucial.
Specifically, the people you must include in your circle are the following: the coach, the connector, the idealist, the industry insider, the mentor, the partner, the realist, the trendsetter, the visionary and the wanna-be. That last one may seem superfluous, but there’s no better way to test your mettle as a professional than to teach what you know to someone who’s been where you were before.
Use the Power of Technology
You don’t have to stick to the old-fashioned “meet and greet” style of networking. When you’re signed up for sites like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, you can connect to experts even from halfway across the world. Maximize your social networks by leveraging online groups, adding value to those groups and mixing them up to reach out to the largest number of people possible.
Ask for Help
Having trouble expanding your network on your own? Ask someone else to drop in a good word for you. Nine times out of ten, they’ll be willing to do you the favor — as long as you also do the same for them in the future.
This advice also applies when you’re having trouble in general. If there’s anything you need help with at work, don’t be afraid to ask. Few phrases are more flattering to a professional than, “Can you lend me a hand?”
Generally, it’s a good idea to stay in touch with anyone you want to network with. Unless your first meeting with them didn’t turn out well, people always appreciate any sign that they’re important to you. If you promise you’ll give them a call, make sure you do so.
Given the network you have now, will you be able to achieve your career goals? Can you use the connections you have to open up doors that were closed to you before? Or is your network simply a group of people you can hang out with after work? Answering questions like these can help you determine whether you’re on the right track, or whether you need to change tactics to build a higher-quality network.
It’s one thing to establish a network, and another thing entirely to maintain it. The easiest way to maintain any relationship is to be true to your best self from the beginning. If you can do that, you’ll always be able to attract the best kind of people without effort.
Networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word. When you do it not only for yourself, but also for the people you’re networking with, it feels less like a sleazy tactic and more like a way to help everyone’s boats rise. If you’ve heard of, or tried, other proven techniques to expand your roster of “people you know,” remember to share them with us in the comments!
Networking Main Jurgen Appelo