Whether you're currently employed in a job you love or seeking the next big thing, networking should be a normal part of your routine. Networking exposes you to professionals who can help you enhance your current career or launch a new one. It also provides an opportunity for you to learn from others in your industry while sharing your own knowledge and expertise. Learn how you can take your networking to the next level with these tried-and-true strategies.
1. Learn How to Network
Many professionals view networking as work, and therein lies the problem. Networking should be about building relationships that are inspiring, beneficial and motivating. Don't consider it a chore to meet people who can help you learn more about your field or increase your job opportunities. Instead, change your mindset and take the word "working" out of the mix, recommends Entrepreneur magazine. The best way to network is to build genuine relationships rather than just pass your business card out at an event. Treat professionals you meet as potential friends instead of simply business contacts.
2. Assess Your Current Network
You encounter people every day while working, socializing or and running errands. Tap into these markets to create a list of friends, former colleagues and family members who work within your field. Strengthen these relationships by trading war stories, and keep these people updated on your job status and your career goals.
3. Close the Computer
Although a computer is a great resource for networking with professionals, it should not be your sole method of interacting with people in your industry. Schedule lunch dates with former colleagues and supervisors, arrange a happy hour with friends who are currently employed at companies you are researching, and grab a cup of coffee with a professional you met at a networking event. Face-to-face interaction gives you the opportunity to let people know you are seeking work or progressing within your current job.
4. Join Professional Organizations
A membership with an organization that represents your field is not just for show. While your membership alone might impress potential employers, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage by failing to utilize all its benefits. Attend seminars and workshops sponsored by the organization, join groups and forums to learn about innovative developments in the field, and access member-only resources online. You can also use your membership to meet like-minded professionals who can offer you guidance or a career boost.
5. Set Goals
A networking strategy is not effective unless you set goals. Attending a networking luncheon might offer minor benefits, but actively participating and setting goals to achieve at the event helps you take full advantage of the situation. Set goals you can achieve each time you step out to network. For example, when attending a luncheon, strive to obtain five business cards from people you meet. This goal can motivate you to introduce yourself to more people in the room.
6. Take a Proactive Approach
Networking involves more than just showing up at a town meeting or social hour. You have to be proactive to take your networking to the next level. Start conversations with people you don't know who are at the event, or seek out individuals you know online but haven't yet met in person. Demonstrate sincere interest in what these people have to say. You don't have to be the life of the party, but you should avoid shying away from the crowd.
7. Digitize Your Contacts
There is nothing worse than misplacing a business card you received at a networking event, especially if you developed a solid rapport with that individual. Networking involves more than just making a good impression at the initial meeting: Following up is what helps you develop a lasting relationship. As soon as you receive a business card or contact information, add it to a spreadsheet or input the information into your mobile device for easy access. Set reminders on your phone to contact professionals on a regular basis, so you can establish a habit of reaching out and following up.
8. Elevate Your Elevator Pitch
Every professional should have an elevator pitch ready for delivery at any time. However, whether you are employed or unemployed, you should revise this pitch periodically. Add information about the tasks you perform on the job or recognition you have received. Include your affiliations with local organizations or professional associations. Update your elevator pitch as you update your resume, so you are consistently providing new contacts with your most current information.
9. Mind Your Manners
It is no secret that your first impression is important. In fact, it can make or break opportunities and professional relationships. Evaluate how you communicate with people in your field. Practice your introduction in front of a mirror to assess your body language. Eliminate any arrogant or intimidating gestures or phrases from your pitch. The key to a successful first impression is to let the best of your personality shine without losing your professional touch.
10. Build an Online Presence
Build your professional brand by creating profiles on social media platforms. When networking, you can refer your new contacts to your profiles and stay in contact via LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Many professionals also opt to create websites or blogs where they can position themselves as experts within their fields. Although online contact should not replace face-to-face interactions, these platforms can help keep your name and your brand in the forefront.
Networking is important. The people you meet in professional settings may be the ones who can help launch a new career or inspire you in your current position. As a result, you also gain valuable friendships with people who have similar interests and professions.
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