Whether or not you’re looking for a new job, it’s a good idea to keep building, strengthening and maintaining your professional network to help you improve your stature in your field and help you get more done by gaining access to more resources.
In terms of a job search, many of the best jobs are never advertised, instead filled by word of mouth through personal and professional networks. While public-sector jobs often must be advertised based on department rules or government regulations, you won’t have this practice on your side if you’re making move into the private sector.
The benefits of professional networking lend credence to the old saw, “It’s not always what you know, but who you know.” If you want to maximize your chance to find your dream job and perform well once you have it, manage your network on an ongoing basis. Here are seven steps that will get you there.
#1 Identify your Goals
The first step in building and improving your network consists of examining your goals. You might be happy with your current job but want to do more public speaking, build your political clout, raise your stature within your industry or land a position on a professional association committee or board.
If you’re looking for a job, decide the exact titles you want, where you want to live and which companies you want to work for. While you might not be able to get this specific and land your ultimate dream job, running this scenario helps you better narrow your search focus and start identifying the people who can help you.
#2 Target your Contact Types
Instead of starting with a list of specific people you want to add to your network or current contacts you want to strengthen, write a list of the types of people you feel can help you grow. This can include professional association committee and board members, people who hold the job you want right now, people in positions you want to land someday but aren’t qualified for today, assistants to key professionals you want to connect with, and customers, vendors and suppliers who work with key people you want to reach. Media professionals often hear of people who may soon be leaving their jobs or getting promoted, making reporters and editors valuable contacts.
#3 Put on Your Best Face
Before you start contacting people or re-connecting, make sure your online presence, resume and work samples are ready to showcase you in the best light possible. New contacts are especially likely to Google you or visit your LinkedIn page, so know in advance what they’ll see. Keeping a clean online presence is key to managing your personal brand. Remember, your resume isn’t just for job searches. Contacts might request it if they’re thinking of inviting you onto a committee, having you write an article or asking you to speak or join a panel discussion. If you start connecting with people and someone asks you for your CV, if it’s not up to date, you’ll appear unprofessional and unprepared.
#4 Start with your Closest Allies
Begin contacting your closest professional contacts to discuss your career goals and solicit their advice. They might know of organizations you should join, events you should attend, people you should meet or jobs that are open.
#5 Create a Social Calendar
Be seen. Make an effort to find out when and where your target contacts gather. This can include trade shows, seminars, conferences, cocktail parties and charity events. If you participate at a fundraiser that’s near and dear to a department head you don’t get to interact with much at work, you get noticed. While you are helping out at a breast cancer 10K race or youth sports banquet, you might meet bigwigs at other agencies, departments or private-sector companies. Not only do you get to meet these folks, but you also demonstrate you are someone who shares an interest with them. It also shows you are not self-focused and might be a better team player.
#6 Join Professional Associations
One of the best ways to build and manage your network is to get involved with professional associations. This type of service provides two benefits: it gets you in front of specific professionals and it lets you showcase your skills. Avoid the trap of joining a professional association, attending one or two social events and thinking that’s enough. You need to commit to attending the organization’s major events, writing for its blog or newsletter and getting on a committee. Once you feel comfortable, you can really expand your network by chairing a committee or getting on the board of directors.
#7 Give Some Love
If you can help promote someone professionally, they’ll be likely to return the favor some day. If you have the opportunity to write for a department newsletter, industry website or a trade magazine, or if you have your own blog or publish on LinkedIn, interview experts you want to bring into your network and give them some exposure. This not only improves your content, but also creates long-term relationships. If you book speakers or know someone who does, recommend your contacts to help them land a conference slot. When you hear of a job opening, think of who in our network might be a good fit and send them the lead.