Networking often gets a bad reputation as it can have the connotation of people in business attire milling about an airport hotel ballroom passing out business cards and desperately hoping that somebody calls them with an opportunity. There’s a more positive way to look at networking though; you’re building a group of people with different skills and experience that you can pull together whenever you need to successfully achieve a goal.
Tips for building your network:
Focus on connecting with people in a way that you can offer them something of value, whether that is your time, expertise or your contacts. Approaching people in a way that conveys you are only looking to get something from them meets with limited success and is unlikely to leave a strong, positive, lasting impression that you have something to offer.
Attend a conference in your field, or in a field that interests you but may not be directly related to your current projects. Conferences can be a great way to find people who are facing similar challenges to yours and provide you with new ideas and a support network to help you both break through to achieve your goals.
Become a mentor to a younger colleague or a peer who is not under your direct supervision. Mentoring allows you to expand your network to an up-and-coming talent pool while providing the value of your experience to people interested in learning. You can also seek out a more experienced mentor for yourself, but it’s very rewarding to give back some of your time and experience to a younger colleague. (More on the benefits of mentoring in the post “Who Are You a Mentor To?”)
Seek to make connections between people in your network. Chances are you know someone in your network who needs some help with something and you also know someone who can help them. Put those two people together! Your network will grow stronger by connecting the people in it to each other instead of just having a connection to you. If you can get people together who are looking to collaborate, chances are those people will come to you next time they’re looking for a connection since you were able to deliver before. Everyone loves the guy who can connect them with the people they need to achieve their goals!
Reconnect with people in your network on a regular basis. Keep up with what their current projects and areas of interest are. Actively look for areas you can collaborate with people on. A solid professional network is like a muscle and must be exercised to stay strong and flexible. If you don’t use it, it will atrophy and won’t be there when you need to call on it.
No matter where or who you choose to network with, remember that your goal is to build a strong network of people who can help each other out. Focus more on providing value to your new contacts as opposed to getting something from them. Those strong professional relationships will lead to others and will put you at the center of a robust network of individuals who can be called upon when you need them!