Looking for a new job? How’s your professional network?
“A strong network goes a long way in supporting a successful job search strategy,” says Rachel Loock, associate director of Executive MBA Career Coaching, Programming and Outreach at Maryland Smith. “People who are purposeful about regularly developing and maintaining a strong network – even when they aren’t looking for a new job – often learn that new opportunities find them.”
“Networking” often gets a bad reputation as being fake, transactional or asking for a favor (e.g., a job) from someone with whom there is not a strong relationship already in place. Networking, Loock says, when done correctly, is an art – it’s the art of building and maintaining strong mutually beneficial relationships based on trust.
Loock recommends approaching it with the mindset of, “What can I learn,” or “Where can I offer resources or expertise?”
Research has shown that individuals with a strong professional network tend to enjoy more career success than those without. Effective networking is a process that requires time, patience and intention. Loock recommends these five ways to strengthen your network and not only stay connected, but also to enhance your connections with others.
1. Pencil in regular check-ins. Schedule regular check-ins with current and former co-workers and colleagues to learn what’s new in their world and how you can potentially be of assistance, either by offering resources or other support, such as expertise or access to connections. Meetings can be over coffee, lunch or a quick phone call and provide the chance to learn something new and help others. Regular conversations can potentially lead to mentoring new or junior colleagues, or building a bridge between departments to move a project or initiative forward.
2. Put yourself out there. Identify ways to add value within your organization outside your normal job responsibilities. Volunteer committees that align with your interests can be a good place to start. The chance to work with co-workers outside your department and learn something new can be an effective way to build strong relationships across your organization.
3. Join the club. Step up your networking through professional associations that match your current industry or an industry or sector you’re interested in. Associations offer training, conferences, social events and other ways to get involved and build relationships with other industry professionals. Associations often seek volunteers to assist with the planning and execution of member programs. Serving on a committee can expand your network and translate into valuable experience, whether you are a seasoned professional or a new college grad entering the workforce. Home to many national trade and professional associations, the Washington, D.C. area has associations representing virtually every industry or sector.
4. Connect with your community. Get involved with alumni, community or civic organizations to grow your network beyond your industry or professional area of focus. Giving back to your alma mater through alumni activities or other cause in which you believe in is another great way to expand your network. Check with your college or university’s Alumni Relations Office to learn more about upcoming networking events and opportunities to share your area of expertise as a speaker or to serve on a committee.
5. Be a social butterfly. Connect with others via social media. LinkedIn provides opportunities to check in with colleagues and celebrate milestones such as work anniversaries and new jobs. These updates provide a great conversation starter with which to re-connect with people in your network. Joining LinkedIn professional groups is another way to connect with industry professionals. Keep in mind, however, that while social media can be a valuable virtual tool to support your networking efforts, it shouldn’t take the place of in-person networking.
Not sure where to start? To be effective, networking should be a regularly scheduled event. To be enjoyable, start where you share a common interest with a colleague or become part of an organization that represents a cause you believe in. Your interest and enthusiasm are the best barometers of where to direct your networking efforts.
–An earlier version of this article appeared on WAMU’s website.
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