Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s all about who you know, not what you know”? Almost everyone has heard one variation or another. Today, networking is more critical than ever; not just for finding jobs, but for surrounding yourself with supportive and valuable teammates, friends, and mentors. Throughout my career, I have found the best resources are the people you know, or people they may know, who can lead you to the right position or give you the best perspective.
But how many of us have been taught how to network professionally?
I’e spent decades learning how to build valuable relationships. I know the importance of knowing the right people, especially at the start of your career. Here are my tips for learning how to network:
Work your existing network.
Networking can sound intimidating, especially if you think it means introducing yourself to strangers, CEOs, and industry leaders. Many times, we don’t even know where to start looking for these elusive “whos”. What you need to realize is, you already belong to many networks (family, friend groups, colleagues, church or civic club, etc.) and it can be a natural outgrowth of these primary contacts.
Each network connects to another network (e.g., your child’s teacher can connect you with other parents). What’s more, each member of a network may know of an available job—or any other need you might have—or at least have a connection to someone who knows of one.
When you’re getting started, you don’t need to begin from scratch. Investigate your current relationships. You’ll be surprised by who you’re already connected to.
Talk to people.
Talk to your parents. Talk to your friends. Talk to your coworkers. Talk to parents’ friends. Talk to your Uber driver. Talk to the stranger sitting next to you on the bus.
I talk to everyone; on planes and in restaurants, at my daughter’s school, at the gym, at the grocery store—basically anywhere and everywhere I am.
I ask people what they do, who they work for, if they like it, and if they would recommend it to others. You never know where a connection might lead. According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn and the Adler Group, “85% of critical jobs are filled via networking of some sort.”
I got my first job because I knew someone who worked in a company looking for multiple new graduates to whom they could teach their sales methodology to. A friend of mine got her first job because her dad worked for a data processing company, and he knew of an open entry-level position in his company. Many others I know got their first job almost by accident. So it’s important to keep talking. More than anything else, that will help you find the people you need to meet.
Connect on social media.
Most people today have some presence on social media, for the purpose of connecting with people—it is called the social network after all. If you want to network online, though, I recommend you establish a professional presence on social media.
The key word here is professional. If you want to use social media in a workplace environment, to build your work network, or to build your brand, your profiles need to have more depth than selfies. Put conscious thought into what you post, and think through how that reflects you, your brand, and your employer or business. This is a space for your digital resume. Take it seriously.
That being said, LinkedIn is a great place to share your work experience, credentials, honors, and awards. Facebook and Instagram are platforms to share appropriate photos and links. You can also use social media to connect with individuals or groups in the same workspace or industry as you, and communicate and collaborate digitally.
It’s ok to be picky. When it comes to social media, we can be tempted to think because we are able to connect with anyone, we should connect with everyone. We need to be choosy about who we let in our network, though, so we don’t risk our own credibility or image. By connecting with someone on social media, in a way you are saying you know this person and you vouch for them. Don’t put your professional credibility on the line for just anyone.
Build the right relationships.
What kind of people do you need to surround yourself with? Networking isn’t just about job connections. As you begin your career, you want to surround yourself with the right people who will highlight your strengths, support you in your weaknesses, and open doors for you that never would have been possible otherwise. These are the people you can go to for advice, perspective, feedback, and collaboration.
In several of my past posts, I’ve explored in depth some of the most essential people you should have in your network, including: a ghostwriter, a mentor, an attorney, and a financial planner. I also highly recommend building relationships with a key female executive and a recruiter. Whether you already have a job or not, recruiters are a valuable part of your team and can help you expand your network more than you can alone.
Don’t wait to start growing your network. The sooner you start meeting the right people and establishing your professional social media presence, the better. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in high school, getting ready to graduate from college, or a mom of five. Connect now. Reach out and talk to people now.
You don’t need to do everything on your own. Partner with people who can give you guidance outside of your areas of expertise, and you can do the same for others in return.