We all know one of the key steps to advancing your career is to leverage your network.
In reality, it’s often tough to know how to start building a network, or how to grow your network. From the moment you decide to find your first job you will be told, usually by someone more connected than you, just how essential networking is. Once upon a time someone smart came up with the phrase “your network is your net worth” and that mantra has come to embody just how vital connections are to our career trajectories.
In our current era of constant connectivity and 24/7 social media updates, it can feel like we’re networking all of the time. However, when it comes to your career, growing your network means more than increasing your number of followers. Maintaining a network is key, but it’s even more important to build your network in a way that’s authentic to you.
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So how do you grow your network? In my own experience, I’ve found there’s no perfect formula and it’s not something that you can do overnight. Instead, I’ve found cultivating a circle of close contacts that I truly respect is worth way more than gathering dozens of business cards at a networking event.
Ask for Introductions
If you are looking to make new connections in a specific area or for a specific reason, don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. Close friends or contacts already in your circle are likely to make introductions to people in their own networks who could help you. A personal referral is a great icebreaker and can be a valuable way to start a conversation. However, manage your expectations and do be respectful of any introduction someone makes, as your interaction will reflect on them also.
Use Social Media in a Smart Way
LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all indispensable tools for keeping up to speed on what’s happening in your industry and forging connections. Thanks to social media, you can see in real time what your network is working on or excited about, and those insights can be incredible. However, it’s essential to be mindful at all times of how you present yourself on social media platforms. Don’t mix professional contacts or conversations with personal ones, and don’t share or post anything that could back to haunt you in the future.
Leverage Opportunities at Work
It’s tempting to focus on trying to make new connections outside of your company as a key strategy for career development. However, forging positive relationships within your company is equally as important. If you are struggling to get to know people outside of your team, get involved with company activities that align with your interests. It’s a great way to build relationships with people you may not work closely with on a daily basis.
Invest in the Contacts You Already Have
It’s always exciting when you meet a new, important person you admire, and who you think may be able to directly, or indirectly, help you to advance your career. However, it’s equally important to invest in the contacts you already have. Don’t overlook the people you already know and make the time to reconnect. Keeping in touch makes a difference — arrange a coffee or a lunch or just reach out from time to time to check in on how they are. When it comes to relationships and connections, quality is always better than quantity.
Pay It Forward
I always believe in helping other people in my network when I can. Something as simple as an introduction could open a whole window of opportunity for someone in your circle. If you’ve cultivated a circle of close contacts within your network, you are likely to build trust and respect over time, which makes paying it forward much more instinctive. Not only is that person likely to remember, and appreciate, any assistance you give, helping forge a new connection is a rewarding reminder of the positive impact you can make.
If you want to grow your network, be authentic. Take your time and find what feels right for you. Always be considerate of other people’s time and empathetic of other people’s needs. You can’t help everyone, but as you grow your network remember to think about the people you can help from time to time, as well as the connections and opportunities you are seeking. At its best, networking is a two-way process where you can help others, gain valuable insights, connect with inspiring people and identify exciting new opportunities along the way.
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