Professional Education and Career Blog

Building the Network, Part One: Tips for Expanding Your Professional Contacts

networkEveryone hears the advice of how important professional contacts are to your career, but few really put in the time and effort. It may be that you are too intimidated to approach people for professional purposes, or it might feel sleazy, or perhaps you just aren’t normally in a position to meet people in your industry. There is some truth in, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Building a professional network doesn’t have to be difficult, and it shouldn’t feel manipulative. Here are some tips for improving your industry contact list. (Part 1 of 2)

What, Exactly, is a Professional Network?

Many people make this more complicated than it really is. Put simply, a professional network is a group of friends that are willing to help each other out professionally. It’s not a top-secret organization that meets in darkened halls and speaks only in whispers. It’s really about meeting new friends and staying in touch with old ones, particularly ones in your professional industry. What it’s not about is looking for people whose only interest to you is hooking you up in some way. It’s not finding people you can hand your resume to, or finding people you can ask for a job. If people feel like the only reason you care about them is what they can do for you, then you will find yourself without any professional contacts very quickly. Your network is about having relationships with people, with whom you feel comfortable asking for advice and referrals. And just as importantly, they feel like they can ask you for advice and referrals. It’s important to be genuine, just as you would expect personal friends to be. Because these are personal friends – they just happen to have a dimension to them that they are involved in the industry you work in, and you trust each other for advice and professional help.

How to Enhance Your Network

  • Attend conventions. Try and attend as many conferences and conventions related to your career as you can. This can allow you to meet people. If you feel shy about this, keep in mind that many other people are in the same boat as you, and they are just as much looking to meet people as well. That’s the top reason that most people attend conventions in the first place. You will find that people are far more open to meeting and talking. A perfect opportunity is when it’s time for a meal. Look around for someone that seems interesting and invite them along with you.
  • Join organizations. Many career paths have trade or professional organizations, and this can be an ideal way to meet people in your industry. Most will have regular meetings to talk about relevant topics to your area. Not only is it a great way to keep your skills up to date, but it allows you to potentially meet particularly successful people who might be speaking there. And if you have relevant experience on a subject, consider giving a talk yourself. You’ll find numerous people who will want to meet you and stay in contact.
  • Stay in touch. Remember, fundamentally a professional network is a friend network. Go into it with the attitude of meeting friends and let the rest take care of itself. And part of being a friend is staying in touch with people and seeing how they are.
  • buslunchWhat goes around comes around. Be the first to give of yourself. Be always on the lookout for ways to help your contacts, without expectation of something in return. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. If you see an article that is relevant to one of your professional contacts, send it over. Or maybe it is something big. You see a job listing that would be perfect fit. Do what you can to help them move up in the world. What’s key is to be a good friend, and not be a score keeper with a list of favors that everyone owes you. You don’t want resentment from your professional contacts, you want them to feel gratitude.

Just as some friends become close and others don’t, so to do professional contacts. Don’t worry about making everyone a close personal friend. Some people you will connect with, and some you won’t. But if you work at it, you will build up a good network of people who work together to help each other become more successful. Part Two of this network series will run tomorrow.