Professional Networking Is Vital To Career Success - Here's How To Do It Well

In a time when potential employers are posting job openings online and receiving dozens — if not hundreds — of résumés, professional networking seems to be the only guaranteed way to score an interview. According to Modernize Your Resume: Get Noticed…Get Hired, qualified candidates who are referred to an employer always get invited to interview with the company.

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While this may not come as a huge shock to you, there is one major takeaway you may not have realized until now: professional networking is vital to career success. Sure, you could be invited to interview without having a single connection within the company you are applying with. But that assumes you are in the top 3% of candidates with the necessary qualifications. Having the proper networks greatly increases your likelihood of being hired.

Consider this scenario: You are the hiring manager. You have interviewed two candidates who seem to be equally qualified with similar skills, fairly equivalent on paper. Both are pleasant and professional in their interviews. One candidate is a complete stranger; the second candidate was referred by a current employee whose opinion is highly valued. Which candidate would you choose?

Understanding the importance of networking is the first step in the right direction. Next you need to know how to actually network. Here are six ways to ensure you are making the most of professional networking.

Focus on building your relationships.

Networking isn’t simply about knowing someone’s name and adding them on LinkedIn. In order to network successfully, you need to nurture your relationships. Whether your contact is someone you met once at an event, someone you work with closely, or someone who shares your employer but is distanced from yourself, make sure you are communicating regularly with them in a positive manner that fosters a professional relationship. This could mean sending holiday cards or a congratulatory message when they receive a promotion or have their work published. Do what feels natural and genuine to you — don’t “check in” with them unless your message has value that strengthens your connection.

Know your elevator pitch.

This isn’t to say you should memorize your résumé summary verbatim. However, you should have a general idea of what to say when someone asks, “So, what do you do?” If you are unfamiliar with an elevator pitch, here is a quick breakdown: You need to briefly state who you are, what you do, and how it is relevant to them. It’s coined an “elevator pitch” because it should be short enough to rattle off in the length of time it takes to introduce yourself to someone in an elevator.

Having an elevator pitch ready not only keeps you from rambling about irrelevant topics in conversation, but it provides an opportunity for your new contact to understand potential ways they can work with you in the future. Make sure you alter the final part of your pitch to align with the person you are meeting — people want to know how you can help them and why you are a valuable contact to add to their own network.

Provide value to your network.

While it is certainly a priority to connect with others who bring value to you, remember that professional networking is a two-way street. Your contacts should be able to get as much value from you as you do from them. Share your resources, connections, and opportunities! By giving freely to your contacts, they will be more willing to share with you in return.

Attend conferences, seminars, and other events.

If you’re feeling “stuck” with expanding your professional network, find an event in your field where you can meet new people. Whether you find something local or decide to travel, you will find that this is a quick way to grow your network. If you cannot afford to attend events or do not have local opportunities, volunteer with an organization that aligns with your career or personal endeavors. When networking at events, be sure you are following the tips above (build relationships, know your elevator pitch, give value). Do not make yourself a business card collector; get to know people and build a solid foundation for a handful of worthwhile connections.

Keep your contacts organized.

A simple way to be sure you aren’t missing opportunities when networking is to know which contact works where and what they specialize in. If at an event and meeting many new people in a short amount of time, it is useful to make personal notes on their business cards. Write down a note about a funny story they told you, or something else unique about them that will jog your memory later when you are sorting through the many cards you were handed that day. When adding contacts to your address book or phone, remember to include their company name, how/where you met, and any other major identifiers. When possible, include a picture.

Take advantage of LinkedIn.

It’s a given for anyone seeking professional networking opportunities, and should not be ignored. LinkedIn is a great place to pitch yourself simply by having a completed and professional profile. It’s essentially an online résumé and portfolio built into one platform where recruiters and businesses can find you without you having to lift a finger. And — if you really don’t want to lift a finger — we can help you customize and optimize your LinkedIn profile to get the most out of your network. Schedule a consultation today!

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