Networking – How to Build and Leverage a Personal Network

candidates surround a table at a networking event

Many do not realize they already posses one of the greatest tools in growing their careers – their own personal network of family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances.  Learn how to use it to your advantage!

Step #1: Building your empire

Get a new attitude.
Asking for help is not a weakness. Building a personal network means meeting, contacting and maintaining relationships with people who have the ability to help you succeed. Most people have been in your situation at one time or another, so they can empathize with you and offer you assistance — whether it be arranging introductions or offering advice.

Attend industry events.
Check the media and professional organizations’ calendars for listings of events in your area. Whether the event is a straight networking event or topic specific, it is an excellent way to meet others in the industry. If you don’t feel comfortable going alone, get a few friends or colleagues to join you. Make it a point to meet and talk to at least three new people (don’t forget to get their business card). Follow up with the people you met in a quick, next-day e-mail. The goal is to make an impression so they will remember you the next time you contact them.

Keep a black book.
Maintain an address book that includes contact information for former managers, department heads and colleagues. There will come a time where you will want to contact these people again for a reference or simple advice. Drop them a line regularly as to keep their contact information up to date.

Associate yourself.
Find a professional organization to join. Typically, these groups have on-line communications and/or networking opportunities to keep you in contact with other members. These are people you don’t even know that are willing to help you! This can be a terrific resource for you to gather information about a particular industry or hear about current job opportunities.

Step #2: Using your power

Keep in touch.
Communicate with your contact list via a quick e-mail or phone call every month or two. This will keep you fresh in their minds when they hear of a new job opportunity or company that may interest you.

Know what you’re asking for.
In this day and age, people are extremely busy. When calling on your peers for assistance, be clear in your request and expectations. People want to feel as if they are actually helping you; however, if you don’t know what you are asking for, you’ll just end up frustrating everyone.

Get contacts from your contacts.
Here’s the best kept-secret in the world of networking: It’s great to meet new people, but think about how many more people they know. During your next conversation, ask your contact to recommend three people you could speak to about your career path or industry developments. It’s important to be specific and courteous when requesting information — don’t forget, your contacts are putting their own name on the line for you.

Return the favors.
You can also help your contacts gain access to companies and information via your personal network. Offer assistance regularly, especially if that person has helped you in the past.

Mind your manners.
Don’t forget to say “thank you” to those who have helped you. A simple hand-written note expressing your appreciation says it all.

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