NEWS + ADVICE
How to Expand Your Professional Network
Our top 10 list of things you must do to expand your professional network for cleared job search success.
Building a strong network is crucial to career success, as most job seekers land new jobs through some form of networking. Expand your network and reconnect with past connections to gain valuable industry information, uncover the hidden job market, and support your cleared career trajectory.
1. Networking is a two-way street
Offer help where you can, to grow and retain the network you’re working towards. Don’t contact people out of the blue and immediately ask for names and information to help your own job search. You need to nurture your relationships. Is there any way you can be of assistance? Be considerate of contacts’ needs and make a genuine offer to help. Maybe you can connect them to someone else you know or send them a job listing that matches their interests. Always take calls and return emails from your network connections and do what you can to return the favor when someone offers you help.
2. Identify contacts
Develop a list of all the people you can contact for assistance and those you’d like to reconnect with or get to know better. Start with people you’ve worked with in the past or work with now, such as colleagues, managers, clients and vendors. Write down everyone you can think of from friends and teachers, to members of professional meet-up groups and possible military connections. As you identify people to reconnect with or add to your growing network, don’t forget people that work at organizations you’re interested in and recruiters in your industry too.
3. Define your goals
While you likely want help in your job search, it’s not effective networking to simply ask for a job. Instead, consider what you want to learn from each contact. Do you want help with industry research, references, or referrals? Who will you ask for introductions and to whom? Define what you need before reaching out so you can be clear about your cleared career goals. The more people know about you and your goals, the more effective they can be in assisting you.
4. Start connecting
It’s ideal to get out there and meet new people, but don’t overlook those you’ve already connected with. When reaching out to people you know personally, a phone call or email is appropriate. Be sure to clearly communicate that you’re in job search mode, what type of role you seek, and specifics like companies and locations of interest. You can also leverage your existing network by asking them to share additional names to help you build your network.
Use professional events, job fairs, educational activities, social media, and volunteer opportunities to expand your network. Collect business cards, connect on social media, or send a short, personalized email message to build on your initial introductions. Networking is all about building relationships and sustaining them.
5. Consider using social media to support your networking efforts
If you choose to use social media, it can greatly benefit your networking options. You can reach many more people online than you can offline. Join groups that pertain to your career, stay on the lookout for networking events, and make use of secondary connections on sites like LinkedIn to gain an introduction or get a referral. It’s okay to send messages to people you haven’t met, but clearly express the value in connecting.
6. Personalize your outreach
Send personalized messages when sending an email or connection request. Maybe you met someone briefly or haven’t seen them in ages and they won’t remember you right away. Or if they don’t know you at all, what’s the reason you’d like to connect? Share your intentions for a meaningful connection rather than sending requests on a whim without purpose. Keep in mind you’re after quality of connections, not quantity.
7. Consider informational interviews
On your quest to gather information and support your cleared career, consider asking individuals for 15-20 minutes of their time for an informational interview. These information-gathering discussions are a good tool for building deeper relationships with your contacts and gathering valuable info about potential careers or specific employers. Do your homework ahead of time so you can ask good questions. Also come prepared with your elevator speech and remember to always say thank you.
8. Keep your network in the loop and stay in touch
If you’ve reached out to someone about your job search or asked for any kind of help, follow up to share the outcome. If they referred you to someone, let them know how the conversation went and say thanks again. When you conclude your job search, tell them where you ended up. Also stay in touch to keep track of what your connections are up to. This will help you know when you can be of assistance to them. People will stop responding to you if you’re only in touch when you need something from them.
9. Be prepared to network on short notice
You never know when you might meet someone who could be a valuable asset to your career. It’s wise to have a business card and elevator speech ready to go at all times, especially if you’re attending a professional conference or meet-up. There will come a time when someone asks you to summarize what you’re looking for. Your response should be natural, polished, and concise.
10. Keep networking even when you don’t need a job
Maintain your network both during job search and after you’ve landed your new position. Studies show that individuals who network throughout their career, and not just in job search mode, are more successful. No matter what stage of your career you’re in, making new connections is always vital. It’s best practice to always build and expand your professional network before you need it.
5 Ways to Entice Someone to Respond
Avoid long, overly detailed, or vague messages. Increase your response rates when reaching out to new contacts with these tips:
1. Lead with value. Start with a compliment or thank them about something relevant. You need to do some homework and know your subject to be able to target your message in this way. Maybe you appreciate something they’re doing in the industry – make it specific.
2. Keep it short and to the point. Share relevant info, but do so in a limited amount of words. Nobody wants to read paragraph after paragraph. If they need more context, you can include a link to read more about it, like on your LinkedIn profile.
3. Build a meaningful request. What do you actually want from them? Don’t make them figure it out. Time is the most valuable asset that anyone has – so keep your requests to what is most important and be respectful of their time.
4. Offer credibility. The more credible you are the more likely you will get a response. Who are you, and why are you popping up in their inbox? Do you know someone in common?
5. Finish with “thanks in advance.” Adding this phrase can subconsciously make them want to perform the task that you’ve already thanked them for. “I’m intending on this happening and I hope you are too,” is the subliminal message.