You meet an interesting professional at a conference and file away her business card. You work with a talented group and are sure to connect with everyone on LinkedIn before you move to your next position. Throughout our lives, we meet people who help us learn and grow, both professionally and personally. But how do we ensure we’re nurturing that network, especially in times of crisis? Consider these seven steps.
1. Identify what you need — and what you can give
Networking is all about the give and take. Have you thought about the skills and experiences that you can share with others? You probably have a lot more to offer than you realize. Sit down and brainstorm a list of the talents, knowledge and skills that you can share with others. Ask a friend or trusted colleague to help if you need.
Next, make a list of what you would like to learn, what kind of skills you want to acquire, areas of knowledge that interest you. Look at your lists from time to time, and keep them in mind when interacting with others in your network.
“Help others when you can — your actions won’t go unnoticed
and you’re bound to get plenty of offers when you reach out for help.
2. Maintain quality over quantity
It’s exciting to grow your professional network, but it’s not just a matter of getting the largest number of followers or connections. If you follow anyone and everyone who requests a connection with you, you will quickly have a long and random list of strangers that mostly have nothing to do with your career interests. Having an endless list of contacts in your phone or a huge number of Facebook friends will be useful only if you actually maintain a meaningful connection with these people.
For example, on LinkedIn, try to connect only with the people, companies, experts and influencers who are most relevant to your career goals and interests. This will ensure that your LinkedIn feed will be filled with practical and educational information, including important industry news and possible job opportunities.
3. Find people who will strengthen your network
Search any social platform and you’ll find thousands of groups relating to your career interests and goals. With so many choices, how do you single out the communities that will truly help you nurture your goals and grow your network? Stick with well-organized groups that you already have some connection to. Consider looking into:
Online groups for the students of any workshops, classes or certifications you have completed, whether they took place online or at a physical location
University alumni associations, which often have chapters based on geography and may also have a group dedicated to professional networking
4. Connect with people authentically even when you don’t need anything
Connecting online is a generally non-invasive way to stay in touch with someone. This could involve sharing a link to an article about an interesting trend or a new and relevant study in a post on social media or through a direct message or email. If you’ve never met in person, don’t share your cute dog pictures just yet — make sure you first establish a rapport by sticking to professional topics before getting casual. After all, you never know if this person could refer you to an employer — or even become your next boss!
5. Take advantage of virtual mentorship programs, career fairs and other events
“Participate in programs where you can interact with your peers as well as industry experts.
Aside from learning new skills and uncovering important resources, you’ll come away with authentic, long-lasting connections.
Finding a mentor on your own isn’t easy, but a mentorship program (some are free, some charge fees) can simplify the process. In most cases, all you have to do is fill out an online application form, and you’ll get matched with a mentor who has experience in your areas of interest.
Anytime you have a chance to attend a career fair, say yes! Even if you aren’t actively seeking an opportunity, you will get to meet people from a wide variety of companies, some of which you probably didn’t know existed. This personal interaction is a great way to build a relationship with a company and find out if it’s the place for you. Either way, you’ll be growing your professional network.
Girls in Tech offers various opportunities where you can virtually mix and mingle with others in the tech world, including a virtual career fair and online courses. The Girls in Tech virtual conference on September 9 is a one-day extravaganza of panels, lectures and informal chat sessions where you can grow your network of amazing women in tech.
6. Learn how to ask for help
When you ask your network for help, either in a public post or personal email, the most important thing is to be honest and grateful. You might want to ask about recommendations for a mentor or business coach, or seek out ideas for helpful resources, like books, classes, podcasts or training programs.
It’s totally OK to feel lost, confused and overwhelmed as you explore your career options and try to understand where you fit. Take a deep breath and think about this: You have finally realized that you need some help, that you need some guidance, and you’re not above accepting some direction and words of wisdom from a more experienced professional. This is a big step in your career growth.
7. Be your authentic self
Transparency is a buzzword these days, but it doesn’t just apply to companies and their executives — it also applies to you as a person. On your social media posts and during interactions with people in your networks, be honest, let your personality shine through, mention your current hobbies if the topic comes up. Relationships develop over shared passions, which don’t have to be work-related.
But yes, there is still a fine balance to maintain. Be wise about what you’re saying to the world with each post, comment or email. Don’t overshare or gossip. To make sure you’re a fit for the company culture, potential employers will check out your social media platforms to find out who you are beyond your one-page resume.
Nurturing your network is important during all seasons. If you take care of your network, people will come through for you when you need them.