No matter where you are in your career, you need to get good at networking. Read on for some solid career networking tips.

I’m not referring to knowing the OSI model, ports and protocols, or the like. Yes, that type of networking is important to understand but I’m referring to the human version here.

No matter what you think of people, the importance of building and nurturing a professional network cannot be overstated.

What Networking Is

Networking is building relationships with people that can help you personally or professionally. Think of networking as a bridge to where you want to be or who you want to become.

Even if you hit your destination, it’s still important to network, maintain relationships, and build new ones.

Why You Want to Network

If you’ve ever wondered how you’re going to work for the next 30 to 50 years and maintain your sanity, you pretty much answered your question as to why you would want to network. You want to wake up excited to go to work, refreshed and ready to seize the day.

Anything else, including delegating your job search as Ramit Sethi would say, is participating in a form of procrastination.

Simply put, networking is how you get your dream job. Most available jobs are not posted to public job sites. You’d be surprised how many employers prefer to hire someone they know and trust or someone who has been referred by someone they know and trust.

These types of jobs are created as needs are developed.

Network Make Up

Map out what your current network looks like. Don’t leave off anyone that has a potential to help you. You network includes:

  • Friends, family, your spouse’s network, neighbors, or acquaintances
  • Co-workers, former employers, former professors, close vendors, suppliers, or customers
  • Groups or organizations (alumni, professional, religious, community, association, or political)
  • Personal business connections (trainer, broker, agent, banker, accountant, doctor, dentist, or lawyer)

If you haven’t spoken to someone in a while that can help you, make a quick spreadsheet in Excel that includes their information. Build a contact list you can keep track of.

Reconnecting with Your Network

When you’ve identified people you want to reconnect with take a moment to plan out how the meeting will go.

  • Find something to compliment, congratulate, or otherwise talk to them about.
  • Take a moment to catch up and be personable.
  • Naturally inquire about whatever your question is about
  • Offer to help them in some way or in the very least offer to meet and talk again.

You don’t ever want to use people or come across as disingenuous. It takes a bit of practice for it to not feel awkward but building relationships gets much easier with practice.

How to Build Your Network

Depending on how many people you know or need to reconnect with will determine how soon you need to branch out. For me this process was near immediate.

I typically don’t set out to do informational interviews (although I should). I typically reach out to have a conversation or ask some non-formal questions.

How to Identify People to Reach Out To

This will take a bit of homework from you to determine which way you can pivot or bridge into a circle of influence or company. Ideally you want to do this more than submitting resumes as building relationships is much more important than blindly applying to jobs.

A bit of tenacity is required even if the selection of your targets is ambitious. It seems impossible thinking about building yourself up and meeting all kinds of potentially intimidating people.

Don’t take rejection personally. You will experience the brunt of this in the beginning.

I promise that not only will it get easier to reach out but what you need to do becomes clearer as you make progress.

You just must keep making progress up the hill.

Speaking With People That Agree to Meet With You

First, great work making it this far! Many people give up before this point. If you want more than an average career, you need to be able to push past this.

When you meet with someone who has graciously given their time to you, make sure you are organized and concise. You are looking for information, referrals, or something along those lines.

YOU ARE NOT ASKING FOR A JOB. Putting people on the spot or oozing desperation will sour your experience faster than leaving milk out on a hot summer’s day.

Act like a reasonable human (because you are one, right?). I like to mix a bit of personality and professionalism and adjust how hard I lean into either side depending on who I’m talking to.

When you are done, summarize their information or advice and create a list of action items. Ask them if it’s ok to follow up with them when you complete the tasks and thank them for meeting you.

What to Talk About in Networking Meetings

As you’re piecing all this together, keep in mind networking is critical in building your upward career trajectory.

Always plan to discuss something or have some type of objective. Getting their stream of consciousness on the fly can be helpful but you’ll get far more out of your meeting if you show up with a game plan.

And for the love of God, DO NOT WASTE THEIR TIME.

Do your best to make it worth their time to speak with you, even if you have nothing to offer. You listening and reporting back progress is more than a proper response.

Don’t make a meeting too long or ask too many questions. This isn’t an interrogation so don’t treat them like an answering machine to solve all your problems. Leave something to be desired instead of wearing out your welcome.

You can talk about:

  • State of the industry
  • Current local, state, or national goings on (like expansions, developments, regulations, and more)
  • Current events, acquisitions, mergers, or other tech and security news
  • Working with various tools or vendors
  • What certain types of work is like
  • What it takes to be a top performer in an area
  • What it takes to advance into other types of roles
  • The best way to get certain skills and experiences

Career Networking Tips Conclusion

General recruiting is expensive and yields mediocre results. Therefore, you want to build relationships and network with those who you can help and get help from.

If you think working with people is an attack on the introverted, then you’re dooming the rest of your life to mediocrity.

You should build relationships and network with people regardless if you’re employed or not. Keep up with emails and LinkedIn. Congratulate on promotions, awards, new positions, and more. Maintain notes with everyone you network with and keep up with any action items.

Occasionally reach out and have lunch or meet at conventions or other group meetups.

These tips really have resonated with me. What has been your experience with networking and relationship building? Do you find less is more or do you attempt to network with 30-50 people a week? Let me know in the comments below.

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