Whether you're a seasoned professional or just starting your career, knowing the best ways to network can be a game-changer. An acquaintance inside the company of your dreams can inform you of job openings and speak up about your skills. Once you've been hired, knowing the right colleagues can put you on the fast track to job promotions and new opportunities.
Long story short, with a robust and supportive network, you can reach your most ambitious goals. Here's how to network like a pro in 2024.
Prepare for Success
Networking is a bit like camping. You'll need to gather all your equipment before heading out on your trip. Once you arrive, you'll rely on what you brought. Before you start networking, you'll need a few items close at hand.
Start with a business card. This slip of paper with your contact info printed on it might seem antiquated in the digital age, but it's a networking essential. Researchers say 72% of recipients will judge you solely on the quality of your card. Print it on heavy paper, and make sure it includes the following:
Name. What do you want people to call you when you're working together? Skip pet names and jokes, but if you go by "Bob" instead of "Robert," include that on your business card.
Tagline. Move past your current job title and consider what defines you as a professional. Are you a "search engine marketer," an "Oregon-licensed HVAC engineer," or a "business-to-business sales professional?" Consider how your talents can be distilled into one sentence, and include that below your name.
Photograph. People will collect dozens of cards at networking events. Make sure you're memorable by including a snap of your face.
Contact information. Include a phone number, email address, and your LinkedIn profile data.
Next up, gather a list of industry-specific websites, blogs, or podcasts. A quick search with Google should give you a good list to follow. Simply tap into your industry, followed by "podcast" or "blog" to get started. Bookmark them, and devote 30 minutes daily to sift through the data.
Finally, perfect your elevator pitch. This is your response to the question, "What do you do?" It should include each of these points:
Name. Make yourself memorable by repeating your name. This is especially important, as most attendees at these events casually meet tens, if not hundreds, of people, and names are hard to retain.
Current job. Explain your current position in one sentence. Include the company's name, if relevant, along with your title.
Results. What do you do in your current job that makes you unique?
Goals. Highlight why you're networking and what you hope to do in the future.
Memorize this speech so it will sit on the tip of your tongue when the moment arrives to let it loose.
Attend a Networking Event
You've done your homework, and you're ready to meet your peers. Consider a formal networking event. You'll gather with other professionals who are also hoping to build strong connections in the community.
Find a networking event via:
Facebook. This social media site isn't just for connecting with distant relatives or friends from high school. Many organizations list upcoming events, and those listings are searchable. Searching terms like "networking" can bring them up.
Meetup. This organization has a section for "Career and Business Events." Refine those results by location and industry type to find the right group for you.
Eventbrite. This website collects networking events under a "Business" category. Some come with fees, so you'll need to tread carefully before you commit.
Once you've found your event, grab your business cards and elevator pitch. You're ready to meet people face to face!
To make the most of an in-person networking event:
Choose your home base. Stand about 15 feet from the food or drinks tray. You'll capture people walking away happy with snacks to consume.
Use open body language. Keep your arms uncrossed and smile. Make sure people know you're ready to talk.
Start with a simple icebreaker. Ask if people have attended this event before. Talk about the food. Prompts like these invite deeper conversation.
Offer to help. If someone you're talking to brings up a pain point, offer to connect later with a potential solution. Remember that you're trying to be friendly here, not grab the first job you're offered. Strive to be helpful and keep the conversation going after the event ends.
Take notes. When the talk is through, jot down your ideas and follow-up points so you don't forget to do what you promised.
Become an Active Alumnus
Networking events give you a fantastic opportunity to meet plenty of new people, but you may find that you have very little in common with the people you meet. Alumni meetings are different. Everyone there shares a memory of the school or campus you attended.
Experts say alumni associations are undergoing fundamental changes. Once, they were solely about fundraising, and members were often asked to open their pockets to fund programs at the university. Now, associations look for ways to give back to former students so they'll stay connected with the school.
A good alumni organization, according to bloggers, will consist of the following:
Offer events. You'll connect with other alumni during games, social outings, galas, and community service days. These largely informal gatherings can help you rub shoulders in a low-pressure setting.
Keep you informed. Your alumni newsletter or website could contain information about classmate career changes, job openings, or future networking events.
Help you with your job search. Your alumni organization might offer resume-writing workshops or job-hunting webinars. Some even provide career coaching.
Once you've connected with the organization, discover all the benefits that might help you. Then, use your connections. Go to all the events that pertain to you, talk with the people you meet, and promise to stay in touch between gatherings.
Here's where your blog reading and webinar surfing come in handy. If you stumble across a tidbit during your daily reading that seems tailor-made for one of your new connections, share it. Attach a simple note that reminds your reader of who you are and how you met, and send that link along. It's an easy, low-pressure way to stay in touch.
Connect With a Trade Organization
Chances are, you're interested in people who work within your industry. Those professionals are best positioned to help you find the right job with a company you love. Joining a trade organization could be one way to find those peers.
Experts say trade organizations have their roots in the "guilds" of old. These groups came together to address common problems, share knowledge, and support one another. Current groups may hold job fairs and provide ongoing education and networking opportunities.
If you're not sure what a trade organization is, never fear. Chances are, you've heard of them before. You just didn't think of them as a valuable networking partner.
Here are a few examples of trade groups you may have heard of:
Most trade organizations have an annual conference. These provide days of in-person networking opportunities. Bring plenty of business cards, perfect your elevator pitch, and prepare for intense conversations.
Stay in Touch With Colleagues
So far, we've discussed methods to connect with new people you've never met before. Don't forget about the people you already know. Former colleagues know all about you and your capabilities, and they might hold positions in companies you'd love to join.
Researchers say 64% of workers favor job-hopping, defined as staying at a company for less than two years. If that statistic applies to you, you may have dozens of colleagues to connect with. Choose these types of peers:
You worked with them closely. If you shared a project, sat on the same team, or completed similar tasks, you can most likely help one another.
They work within your industry. Some people shift careers when they leave a job. Stay connected with those who still do work you care about.
You got along with them. This is a no-brainer. Don't reach out to people who made you unhappy at work.
Reaching out doesn't have to be awkward. Even though you don't work together anymore, you probably have a lot in common. Bloggers say it's a good practice to keep in touch as you can help each other in countless ways. Here are some easy ways to reach out:
Share professional news via email. If you've accepted a promotion, completed a certification, or otherwise moved forward in your career, send a note explaining it. Former bosses, in particular, might enjoy learning how their charges have improved with time.
Send along a blog post or podcast. Put that list to work. If you stumble across something your peer would love, an email link will likely be appreciated.
Arrange a visit. If you've left the company, arrange to come back and connect when you're in the area. If your colleague has left, offer to play host.
Maintain Real-Time Conversations
Your list of podcasts and blogs will help you connect online, but don't overlook the power of an in-person chat. Getting together face-to-face helps build real relationships, which can be critical when facing job-related challenges.
Set aside one day per week for a networking opportunity. Don't feel compelled to give up your entire lunch break; even a quick chat over coffee before work could be enough to build bridges. Researchers report more than 30% of us buy coffee from cafes anyway. You're not asking a peer to do anything too unusual.
Choose an in-person networking spot that is:
Quiet. Your goal is to have a professional chat, and that's difficult when the music is pumping and people are speaking loudly.
Convenient. Ensure ample parking or quick access to mass transit. Don't give your peer(s) a reason to skip the meeting.
Predictable. Visit your chosen spot several times, and make sure you always get good service and tasty snacks.
Reasonably priced. Don't expect your peer to shell out big bucks to spend time with you.
Send an invite to one of your connections about two weeks before meeting at your networking spot. Accept declines graciously, but prepare for plenty of delighted confirmations.
On the day of your meeting, relax. Use your icebreaker techniques, and talk about the coffee, the location, or the weather. Go over your elevator speech if the moment arises, but focus on listening to the other person and being helpful when possible.
Ask questions such as:
What projects are you working on now?
What new skills are you hoping to pick up?
What's new in the industry I might have missed?
What are you excited about in the coming month?
Connect via LinkedIn
Sitting down in front of a peer isn't always easy, and it's understandable if the idea makes you nervous. If so, social media connections offer a different route to community.
Every two seconds, researchers have found that one person joins LinkedIn. This social media site is made for busy professionals, and it can help you find connections and maintain contact.
Find people to connect with by searching by employer name. Identify colleagues at your current company, and look for connections at the organizations you hope to work for.
Don't forget to utilize those business cards you collected. Add the people you meet to your connections, too.
Once you find the perfect connection, do the hard work. Don't send a generic, auto-generated message about wanting to connect. Instead, craft a custom note about who you are, how you know one another, and why a connection benefits you both. These are the types of touches that tend to get the best results.
Then, stay in touch with those contacts. Hit "like" on the posts you enjoy — or, better yet, tap out a comment with your thoughts. Once you've spent time together on social media, you might feel ready to hold that in-person meet-up. You can set that up using LinkedIn’s private chat.
Believe in Yourself
Creating a network of motivated, collaborative colleagues does take time and effort, but when your peers believe in you and what you can do, the results can be incredible.
Whether you have that network now or not, we'd like to help. We gather job listings from all over the world and place them in one searchable database.
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