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Recession-Proof Your Career

How to Build a Career Network

By Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell

Have you ever asked yourself why networking is important to your career? Studies show that the number one way to get a job is by career networking - and when it comes to starting or advancing a career, your career network should be the first place you look. So rather than asking why networking is important to your career, start with asking, "How do I network?"

We know what you're thinking: More easily said than done. That's why we put together a few easy tips for making the most of your career network:
Build a Local Career Network
If you've been working for a few years, the likelihood is that you have an assortment of work contacts. The best place to start refining your career network is at the local level, by building relationships with the people who work with you regularly. Here's how to think more strategically about building your network.

Career Network Checkup Questions:

  • What current and former coworkers could you build relationships with?
  • Which customers have shown appreciation for your work in the past?
  • Are there vendors who would vouch for you?

There are often overlooked treasures in the people you work with on a regular basis. The questions and career network action plan below are designed to help you uncover those treasures.

Career Network Action Plan:

  1. Make a list of current and former coworkers. When was the last time you asked a current or former colleague out to dinner or even just sent an email asking for an update on their lives? Staying in touch and creating occasions for get-togethers are for making lasting career networks, positive impressions and can be a treasure trove of projects, contracts or jobs.
  2. Add customers who appreciate your services. Customers of your current business need to be treated with extreme caution but they can also be an excellent source of opportunity. It's good business to get to know your customers.
  3. Add vendors who will vouch for you. Take the time build rapport with vendors and consultants. They tend to be personable people with a good read on the industry they work in and possible openings.
Use Online Social Networking Tools
Did you know that on average there are 20,000 new blogs started each day? Like blogs, online networking has gone from the fringe to the mainstream. If you want to be seen, put more effort into online career networking.

Career Network Checkup Questions:

  • What online communities are popular among your colleagues?
  • Where do you want to be "seen" online?
  • How can you make online networking work for you?

Consider making the following career networking activities a part of your daily routine.

How to Communicate with Coworkers Effectively:

  1. Find out what career networking sites your colleagues use. Chat up your colleagues to find out what websites they're using and which industry or topic-specific sites they've used. People who enjoy social networking often love to share their experiences and introduce new people to their communities.
  2. Post your profile. Most social networks make it easy - and generally, it should take less than fifteen minutes to post a profile. If you're looking to create profiles on several sites, keep a standard paragraph-long biography that you can copy and paste into a variety of networking profiles. LinkedIn is always a great place to start.
  3. Make connections. Thanks to the digital age and social networking,you no longer need luck and timing to make a connection with a friend of a friend. Poke around, add connections and explore the connections of your friends. Soon you'll discover the leverage that social and career network sites can provide.
Be Inclusive in Building Your Career Network
By locking people out of your career network, you lock out opportunities. A successful career network, on the other hand, is like a big tent that welcomes new people, new connections and new possibilities.

Career Network Checkup Questions:

  • Why does diversity matter?
  • How diverse is your current career network?
  • What steps can you take to expand the diversity of your career network?

Here's how to build more variety into your career network.

Career Network Action Plan:

  1. Appreciate the value of diversity. Look for opportunities to expand your understanding of different cultures, job titles and work styles. Don't limit yourself by only connecting to people who are like you. If you work in sales and marketing, make efforts to include people with technical or healthcare jobs in your career network.
  2. Take a look at your career network. Think about the twenty people who have helped you the most in the past. The people you turn to when you face a problem at work, the people who've watched your backside, the people who know how to get things done, etc. Review the list and look for opportunities to diversify your professional safety net.
  3. Broaden your base. Have you ever had a friend turn you on to an entirely new type of music, movies or books? On the professional side, one person can introduce you to organizations, people and information that you had no idea existed. Also, consider adding variety to your routine so that you're exposed to new people, places and ideas.
Find Opportunities to be Generous with Your Career Network
Career Networking should always be a two-way street, where people help each other reach their destinations. Not a one-way street with only your goals in mind. Start thinking about how you can give to your colleagues, not just about what you want from them.

Build Your Career Network Checkup Questions:

  • Are you looking for ways to help people at work?
  • What information can you provide people?
  • How can you get people interested in watching your back at work?

Don't hesitate to be generous with helping coworkers and connecting colleagues. Though some connections may not work out, people will always remember your efforts.

Build Your Career Network Action Plan:

  1. Offer before you ask. If you think you might have the occasion to need someone's help, offer them your help first. We're big believers in doing favors for people before you need help in return.
  2. Become a source of information. Remember people's interests, both personal and professional, then send them articles on these subjects. This is a great way to reach out and stay in touch with your contacts.
  3. Look out for opportunities. If you see opportunities that might be a good fit for someone in your career network, let them know.

More: How to Make Networking Work For You - 4 Tips

Resources:

Bob Rosner and Sherrie Campbell author the weekly internationally-syndicated workplace911 column. Bob's a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. Sherrie's a work relations expert and award-winning comedian. Together they offer 12 years of quick, intuitive and humorous column responses on their workplace911.com website. You can e-mail them at bs@workplace911.com.