Build a professional network

We’re constantly impressing upon students to expand their professional networks. Whether a college freshman or a seasoned professional, it’s never too early to network.

There are only three things you need to be successful at networking – passion, purpose, and a smile. The rest just falls into place.

Whether you’re hoping to increase revenue for your business, seeking new members to your organization, searching for the next great hire, or looking to launch your career, networking provides extreme value.

Whether they realize it or not, many college students regularly practice networking to recruit new members, promote an event, or run for office. Those same principles are used to expand one’s professional network.

Here’s a handful of tips to consider to build your professional network.

  • Bring business cards. Whichever the situation, make sure you have enough business cards. You can never go wrong with 50 in your pocket or purse.
  • Carry pen and paper. Jotting down notes of conversations will help you plan for the next encounter. Tip…don’t type notes into your phone…the impression it gives to others is that you don’t care about them. Writing on paper makes you look like you really care.
  • Greet with confidence. First impressions set the tone of the conversation. Firm handshake, eye to eye contact, repeat the person’s name, mixed with a kind greeting.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Get to know the other person by asking questions which extract informative answers.
  • Use your 30-second elevator. When someone asks, “what do you do” or “tell me something about yourself,” be prepared with a brief answer. When they ask “tell me more” be prepared for a longer description.
  • It’s a two-way street. Just as you may be seeking something…a job, a new member, an idea, a referral, etc…the other person may be seeking something, as well. An exchange might not happen on the spot but, if the relationship is managed, you’ll see results.
  • Don’t expect miracles. While some networking exchanges can provide immediate results (e.g. invitation to interview, charitable donation, new member, a date), others take time to mature. The value is found through building relationships.
  • Grab business cards. You should grab a business card from each person, particularly those with whom you had meaningful conversations.
  • Track everything. Record each person into a database (e.g. excel, CRM). Include a brief summary of the conversation, along with a next step.
  • Follow-up. Send each person a note. This may be a hand-written note and/or an email. Be sure to include a reference of the conversation.
  • Connect on LinkedIn. There’s no better public way of showcasing your network, while also using it to build each relationship.
  • Have fun. When people see you enjoying each networking exchange, they’ll work their way over to meet you. Even better, the conversations take greater meaning.

Networking is intimidating to many people. However, when harnessed the right way, it can open many opportunistic doors.