Do you have a professional network?
Your network is a valuable asset on your professional journey. To rise to the next level professionally, you need to connect to a community of professionals. Especially if you live in a new country, you probably lack the network that locals might have. The good news is that you can build a professional network at any phase of your journey.
Are you jaded from hearing about networking and building networks? There is a way to make it work for you. In this post, I will share my experience and eight strategies I have applied to develop my professional network.
Although my career started in Germany, I didn't learn the value of building a professional network until I moved to the US. When I moved here, I had no connections, the business culture was very different, and I didn't have any professional references. I quickly realized that I needed to prioritize building my network to grow professionally. I identified the first steps and started building my network. Some of the activities that have helped me so far include attending events at least once monthly, growing my LinkedIn connections, taking classes and volunteering. My network has provided great benefits such as vast industry knowledge, referrals to new opportunities, mentoring and sponsorship. Till today, I am still building my professional network.
Why should you have a network?
There are many benefits of a professional network, such as:
How to grow your network
Let’s discover practical strategies you can apply to build your professional network.
Define your objectives for your network
When you are building your network, it is essential to be clear on what you want to get out of it. Do you want access to a forum to discuss industry trends, opportunities for personal growth or more? With a clear objective, you will be able to build a network that provides you with what you need. For example: if are you looking to get a new job you should prioritize connecting with people who work at your desired companies. Also, as your objectives change over time, make sure you re-evaluate your needs at every phase of your journey.
MC's Tip: Your network can provide you more than your next Job. Look for other benefits you can derive from your network.
Prioritize your offline network
In a world where we communicate mainly online, we tend to neglect our in-person network. It is vital to develop and value your offline network as well. 1 in four people don't network at all (Source: [Infographic] – 6 Statistics On Networking And Steps For Future Success). Make sure you are building in-person connections. Relationships that begin offline tend to be more successful than purely online relationships.
MC's Tip: When you meet people, remember to make a great first impression.
Develop your online network
As a professional woman, you should actively grow your professional networks platforms that are relevant in your line of business. Personally, LinkedIn has been the platform I have invested in developing over the past three years. Statistics show that 51% of people don't have LinkedIn profiles - the number is higher with female professionals (Source: [Infographic] – 6 Statistics On Networking And Steps For Future Success). If you don't have an up to date profile on a professional network, start building one. I was extremely proud to see an eighteen-year-old lady in my network on LinkedIn.
MC's Tip: Don't shy away from sending invitations to people you don't know. Add a personal note if possible. Remember it's about growing your network. Also, ask people you trust to make introductions. I learned that when I reached out and asked people in my network if they knew anyone in a particular field, they were willing to share and connect me with people they knew.
Prepare your professional portfolio
When you communicate with your network, you want to ensure that you have your portfolio ready. You should be able to express who you are professionally and what your goals are. In my blog post Building your professional portfolio, you can find some personal insights on how to build your professional portfolio.
MC's Tip: Depending on the norms in your Industry equip yourself with the professional tools. Always have your business card, project portfolio, website, LinkedIn profile ready to share.
Contribute to your network
It has been proven that we get more value from our network when we give. If you only take from your network, you will lose the impact of your network. Don't you get tired of people who reach out to you to ask for a recommendation or favor but who haven't given back to you or other people in your network? We don't want to be those people.
MC's Tip: Think of what you can give not only want you can receive. We all have something to offer our network. For example, you might be able to provide industry knowledge.
Attend networking events
Find events around topics you are interested in and attend them. At a lot of the invents I attend I see a deficiency of women and even less women of color. Let's get out there, learn and make the connections. Personally, I commit to attend at least one event every month round a topic that inspires me. In my post How to get the most value from Events, I shared practical activities that will help you benefit from the networking events you attend.
MC's Tip: Make time to attend events. Even when you are busy, you want to ensure you are still making time to network.
Volunteer at organizations
Think about giving your time for a cause you support and getting something in return. If there are professional networks in your industry, make it a point to join them. One of the first steps I took when I moved to the US was to join my local Project Management Institute volunteer management team. Volunteering helped me to extend my network and meet a lot of great project managers.
MC's Tip: Volunteering is a fun and committed way to grow your network and give back. Join an organization and start volunteering.
Maintain your connections
Last but not the least, as with every relationship you need to maintain your network. A few months ago LinkedIn added a feature that reminds you to connect with someone you haven't interacted with in a few years. Why wait to be reminded? Start reconnecting with people in your network. I recently started reconnecting with people I haven't connected with in a while on a weekly basis. It's been a great way to revive dead connections.
MC's Tip: Reconnecting with people in your network will keep your network alive. Reach out to selected people in your network on a monthly basis.