There are several essential ways to grow your network:
- Meeting people one-on-one
- Attending networking group meetings
- Asking friends, family, and colleagues to make introductions
Meeting People One-On-One
While this may sound obvious, it is not. From now on, everywhere you go, you will be keeping your eyes open and your ears tuned. You never know who might help you to achieve your career goals.
If you are the kind of person who normally hangs back when you are at a party or a business function, you are going to have to push yourself out of that comfort zone. A casual meeting in a book store or coffee shop could give you the connection you need to find your dream job.
Chat with people in line at the grocery store. Share views about books while browsing the aisles in a book store. Ask the person next to you at the coffee shop if they like the coffee of the day. Not everyone will want to have a conversation with you, but many people will respond to a friendly approach. And in today’s society, no one will think twice about it if you ask “Do you have a business card?” or “May I give you my card?”
Attending Networking Group Meetings
Because of its dramatic impact on business today, networking has become somewhat formalized. There are networking groups of all sizes, all types, meeting at any time of day or night and in locations all over town. In most cities, finding networking group meetings is possible through web sites (like www.Citysearch.com), newspapers (like the Business Journals), or specialized communication channels (like professional associations, newsletters, or Chambers of Commerce).
As we discussed above, preparing your message in the form of your “Elevator Pitch” or “Positioning Statement” is an essential element to being successful in attending networking meetings. In most meetings of this type, you will have between 20 seconds and one minute to introduce yourself. Be prepared to make the best use of that time.
If you are finding your network list to be too small, consider incorporating some other activities in your life to build up your network. Below are some examples of the different ways to build long-lasting relationships:
Join Professional Organizations or Associations
Joining an organization related to your chosen career field is a sure way to make contacts with individuals in related or synergistic professions. Nearly every industry or occupation offers an association or organization to join. Do research on the internet or at the library to locate the name of the association for your chosen field. For example, if you decided to choose pediatric radiology for your new career path. You could join the Society of Pediatric Radiology and join the local chapter in your city. This would enable you to create a new business network, make friends with people in a similar profession, and take advantage of opportunities to learn more about your field.
If you cannot find an association appropriate for your chosen field, you might consider joining a professional group. Although most professional groups do not focus on a specific industry or career, it is beneficial to you professionally, as these groups often offer seminars and presentations on relevant work topics. For example, if you are a young male professional in Austin, Texas, with a passion to help at risk youth, the Young Men’s Business League http://www.sunshinecamps.org would be an appropriate group to get involved in. If you are a young woman between the age of 25-35 with a passion for education and community service, then the Young Women’s Alliance http://www.youngwomensalliance.org may be the right group for you.
Volunteering Your Time with an Organization that Supports Your Personal Interests
The benefits of philanthropy are obvious-it is giving back to the community and is rewarding to you spiritually. A side benefit is that you may meet contacts in similar professions as yours who are drawn to the same organizations. For example, Girlstart is an organization focused on educating young girls about math and science, and most volunteers are engineers. The Big Brother program is also an effective philanthropy.
Helping at Your Children’s School
Assisting at your children’s school helps you stay connected to them, while also allowing you the opportunity to work closely with other parents who may work at companies you are interested in. Many jobs have a technical aspect, so assisting with your child’s school science fair is a terrific way to meet other technically-minded parents.
It might seem like you have an ulterior motive, but casual socializing is a terrific way to network. People tend to open up in a relaxed and casual setting. It is in these types of settings that the most valuable information is shared. If having a party, a theme can be memorable, for instance, you may want to have a thank you party for your business associates.
Taking a Personal Interest in People at Work
While it is important to have a social network outside of work, good team-building takes interest in others at your place of business. Through your relationship with them, you may have the opportunity to be introduced to other important contacts. You may be a softball enthusiast, and your co-worker may be playing in a softball league. Only by talking to them will you determine that you have shared interests.
Avoid becoming the negative stereotype of the “professional networker” who is always looking for the next person to meet, while still talking to the first person. Give your complete attention to each person you meet, and let the conversation flow to a natural conclusion before moving on. You do not have to meet everyone you possibly can each time you attend a meeting of this kind.
Asking Friends, Family, and Colleagues to Make Introductions
No matter how large or small the city or town in which you live, you cannot meet everyone on your own. From time to time, you will identify specific individuals, or individuals in specific roles at companies of interest to you. When you do, you should make every effort to find out if anyone you know already knows this individual. If someone does, ask them to facilitate an introduction. This is one of the main functions of the online service LinkedIn and others like it.