Professional networking can feel about as appealing as having to kiss your old aunty at the family reunion. You know you should, but you really don’t want to.
What’s worse, when you do network, it doesn’t seem to generate the results that you’re looking for, whether you’re searching for a new job, a new career, seeking a promotion or you want professional development opportunities.
So how can you make your professional networking efforts work for you? Here are 7 professional networking tips that will help you leverage your network and whip up career opportunities fast.
Professional Networking Tips
1.Know who you want to meet.
Networking might consist of professional networking events and of course random meetings in your real life – at coffee shops, in the grocery store or at the gym.
But it’s likely that your most productive professional networking connections will come from the people you deliberately seek out.
With that in mind, think about who you want to meet.
Who might benefit your career because of who they know, because of the companies they are affiliated with or have been in the past, or because of their experience?
It might sound cold and calculating, but it doesn’t have to be. You will still treat this person like a person – you’ve just decided to seek out specific knowledge or resources, these just happen to come in the form of human resources.
Treat everyone you meet with kindness, but since you have limited time and energy, use it wisely by making the best choices you can for your career and investing in meeting the right people.
Then learn to use LinkedIn (and other professional networking sites) like a wizard.
2. Be clear on what you’re asking for.
When you’re networking, it can be easy to show up with a big question in your mind: “How can you help me?” When you do that, you might come to the interaction without an agenda.
Instead, you need to be very clear what you are asking for in each meeting. Are you looking to connect with this person to gain more information about their current company? Are you hoping to tap into their network?
Don’t take over the conversation with your agenda, but don’t leave it up to the other person to figure out what you need and then provide it for you.
Instead, be proactive in figuring out how connecting with that person will benefit your career.
3. Know your professional network is busy.
Your network is made up of real live people, just like you. They’re flat out busy. They don’t have time to eat something that doesn’t come out of a box half the time, much less keep you top of mind.
So if you want your network to advocate for you, you really have to make it dead-simple by advocating for yourself first.
Basically, you have to become a marketer and think of your job search/career change/promotion/strategy as the product.
You need to keep that campaign in front of people constantly. How constantly? Enough so that when they see an opportunity that you would love, they know it’s for you immediately (that is, they know what you need well enough to be able to spot it and to think of you, not drift off into thinking about last night’s episode of Downton Abbey).
That means you need to have broken through their mental noise of to-do lists, self-talk, Kim Kardashian news, and whatever-the-heck-else we think about all day enough so they stop in their tracks and you come to mind when they see that opportunity.
The opportunity doesn’t just drift by unnoticed.
If you think about it, that’s a lot of what huge brands spend big bucks on. They want you to stop and notice them when you have a need for their product or service. You need to market yourself so that when your network notices an opportunity, the Campaign of Your Career comes to mind.
4. Have a clear and specific CTA.
For you non-marketers out there, a CTA is a call-to-action. It basically means: what are you asking your network to do?
So, you’ve done a great job and you have your 500+ LinkedIn connections hard at work scouring the world for opportunities that match your needs.
And, aha! Someone finds one!
You’d think it would be obvious, right?
No, no one in your network is a moron.
Everyone is just so overwhelmed that Elon Musk should figure out how to build a battery that runs on stress.
You need to be very clear about what you’d like them to do if they uncover something juicy for you.
It can be really simple, like this:
Fred, if you do come across something you think I should look into, please send me an email right away. I really appreciate it!
Otherwise, people are likely to sit on an opportunity until they “get to it,” and sometimes that means those opportunities are dried up before you have a chance to do anything about them.
One note: Remember that you have very clearly spelled out exactly what you are looking for to your contact so that they don’t have to do any guessing.
5. Follow up with your business network.
Even though you’ve asked your network for exactly what you’re looking for, you’re being vigilant about staying top-of-mind with your career campaign, and you’ve asked your folks to contact you right away if anything good comes up – it doesn’t mean they will.
Life gets in the way. There’s that extra work assignment. Their long commute. Their night to do dishes. And then there’s Netflix.
My point is, no matter how carefully you’ve laid your plan, you need to keep reaching out to the same contacts to follow up and ask them if they’ve come across anything.
Because you know your network is so busy, you need to maintain a follow-up schedule that makes sense for you.
You might decide to divide your contacts into different groups and email some every quarter, some every six weeks, some every three weeks and another group even more frequently. You could assign people into categories based on how well you know them or how likely you think they are to generate good leads for you.
Whatever you do, be courteous, grateful and professional.
6. Ask the magic question.
There is a magic question in professional networking (and in informational interviewing) that is often overlooked. Here it is:
Can you think of anyone else that would be helpful for me to talk to?
Implied in this question are two things: First, that the person you would be connected with would be willing to talk with you, and second that you’re asking the person you’re talking to currently to open up their network to you.
It’s possible that feeling like this is a big ask is the reason this question gets left out of so many networking interactions, or maybe it’s a question that just is thought about.
Whatever the reason, asking in this way usually means that it is well received – and that’s great news for you, because this is a magic question.
Because it can potentially turn every meeting and every connection into another new, targeted meeting or connection.
If you’ve just asked this question, you’ve just had a conversation with someone who knows you and your professional goals. The person they are suggesting you speak with is going to be someone that can help you further those goals in some way.
You’re building your network with people who are highly qualified to help you with your specific career goals.
7. Give back.
No one likes a taker, but at the same time, people are happy to do favors for people who are grateful and who set clear boundaries around what they are asking for (it’s clear to the giver that they won’t be taken advantage of).
It’s great to rely on your network, especially in times of need in your career. But don’t disappear on them once you meet your career goals.
You need to give back.
That same busyness and overwhelm that plagued them will overtake you as well. There is no way you can stay in touch with everyone in your network, constantly asking them what they might need without burning yourself out.
So what can you do?
First, decide what you like to give. There is probably something you’re good at doing and that you enjoy and that your network would find valuable. Maybe you love giving business advice to novices, helping with social media or making suggestions on another tough problem.
Figure out what you like to give and what you want to be known for. This also helps with your brand development.
Second, make it known to your network what you can offer them and actually make the offer. Just letting people know that your door is open if they need to talk about a particular issue is enough.
Don’t worry that you’ll be bombarded with 500 requests. You won’t be. You haven’t entered into indentured servitude, so you get to decide on the flow of giving back if you do see more than a handful of requests.
Be sure that you reciprocate, however, for those who went above and beyond for you.
Whipping Up Career Opportunities
There’s a reason big (and small) companies start marketing campaigns instead of going door-to-door telling people about their great product. Going door-to-door takes too much time.
Essentially, if you’re trying to get ahead in your career without fully leveraging your network, you’re going door-to-door. You need to start your own career marketing campaign by using the professional networking tips outlined above.
Engage your networking army, and watch the results materialize!