A strong network can be a powerful force for career success, but there’s more to it than just asking people to help you out. Networking is the act of forming meaningful connections with people in your orbit. This can include professors, advisers, bosses, coworkers, and more. In the wake of the pandemic, the styles of networking have changed dramatically with a noticeable shift into the digital space. Building an effective network takes both time and effort.
How do you build a network?
Pay attention to the people who take an interest in you professionally. Those who are willing to devote extra attention to your success can become your most powerful advocates. However, to build a network, you have to offer a similar amount of interest and make the relationship reciprocal. For example, if you find you have a connection with a professor that might be a good person to know down the road, plan to attend their office hours and be willing to participate often in class. These actions can help you to stand out and leave them with an impression. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for their contact information so that you can add them to your network. If you do get their contact info, be sure to follow up and thank them.
Quality over quantity
Some people join networking sites like LinkedIn and try to build their network by simply inviting everyone they’ve ever talked with to connect. While it doesn’t hurt to establish an initial connection, a network built solely on numbers is not going to be effective at helping you navigate your professional life. Be sure to think intentionally about who you want to connect with more deeply, either via meeting up in-person or by messaging occasionally to strengthen ties. If you can share why you want to connect with someone and the impact they’ve had on you, the connection will be more meaningful and helpful.
Give and take
It’s easy for things to become transactional in the professional world, meaning when things are done out of self-interest or when people start to wonder what’s in it for them. Be prepared to offer value for those in your network when opportunities present themselves. An example might be sharing a lead with a recruiter for someone you think would be a good fit for an open position. It could mean connecting two people in your network that might benefit from getting to know one another. If all you ever do is ask people for things, they’ll come to think of you as a taker. The important thing is to try to give as much as you ask of your network so that all parties can benefit. This can help to build trust and give others a favorable opinion of you.