How many times have you heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? While your skills, experience and knowledge are valuable, if you’re job searching or looking for the next level in your career, it’s likely that you could use a person or two to help you out.
But if you work in a small organization or niche field, it can be hard to find that person with the connections and knowledge to help you move forward. At the same time, you might be less than stoked about going to a formal networking event to awkwardly make a new connection. Don’t worry. If you’re like me and have a hard time making the cold open at cocktail hour (i.e. "Hi, I’m Hannah and I’m interested in pursuing a career in technology management"), you can still expand your professional network.
Here are five tips for creating your own network, in your own way:
Ask a Friend
The easiest way to network is to start with who you already know. Don’t disqualify your inner circle, just because your relationships have traditionally been more social than professional. If you have friends in your field, consider expanding your friendship to work-related topics as well. Go to conference together. Take skill-based classes together. Share contacts.
Of course, you might not have friends in your field. Say you work in government technology but not a single one of your friends has a job related to yours. Problem? It doesn’t have to be. While it would be great if you had a friend who also shared your professional interests, even your fashion designer or restaurant chef friends can offer a valuable way to grow your network.
Clearly tell them what types of skills, experiences, or interests you’re looking for in your professional network. Ask them if they know anyone who fits the bill who they wouldn’t mind introducing you to.
If your social circle isn’t delivering on those valuable contacts, don’t admit failure or relegate yourself to networking at boring conferences. Instead, think about how to get a bit more social and expand that circle.
Join a book club, a social sports team, or even a wine-tasting society. I’ve done all three of these and, while I started each by making new friends, I walked away with valuable new professional contacts.
The bonus? When you start in a social setting, it takes the pressure off of networking. You can build comfortable relationships before ever having to make a professional ask.
If you are truly struggling to find a professional match through social activities and circles, take to the internet. Think Tinder, but with a focus on work rather than dating. Both Bumble and Vina offer swipe-right options for finding the next same-gender member of your professional network. They even allow you to chat within the app, so you don’t have to connect in person if you aren’t in the same area.
Many organizations, including GovLoop, also provide services to help connect professionals to mentors in their field.
Of course, sometimes you just have to get down to business. If you’ve been wading through in-person and online social communities without finding your professional match, try a more targeted approach. Seek communities of like-minded professionals that you already know share your interests, goals, or skills.
Job or industry-specific conferences are a great way to find these groups. However, you can still take a more relaxed approach if that feels too formal. Check out MeetUp.com to discover communities in your area geared towards more informal knowledge sharing and socializing.
Not in a big city? Many in-person communities also have Slack channels, Facebook groups or other online forums to help you get involved virtually.
Never Forget the Basics
Finally, don’t forget the age-old tactics. Your parents, college counselor, boss and everyone in between has probably told you that you need to maintain an up-to-date, active LinkedIn. Go to events with like-minded professionals and pass out your business cards like they’re candy. Follow up with any connection you make with a thank you and next steps to continue your professional relationship. Set up a coffee date with potential mentors.
These are the basics that all networkers know. And while you may be ready to execute all of these next-level networking tips, don’t forget that many professionals – especially older, more advanced career mavens – still rely on traditional routes for interacting with peers.
As you pursue new, inventive ways to make connections, don’t neglect the tried and true ways of expanding your network. Networking is not a one-off event, and you’ll want to use every tool in your arsenal to build the best network possible for your career growth.
Have more tips for growing your professional network? Share with the community in the comments below!