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I Know I Need to Network - How Do I Start?

 
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Building relationships beyond your immediate circle at work is key to creating new career opportunities.  And in today's hyper-electronic world, taking the time to make an in-person connection creates a lasting impression.

You need to do two types of networking - INSIDE your company and OUTSIDE your company:

INSIDE - The goal here is to broaden your circle of direct contact so more people know you at work and can become potential sponsors and advocates for you.  Look for people 2-3 levels more senior to you who you admire in some way and who are approachable.  Think of this as an informational interview.  You are looking to get to know them better, learn about their career path and scope of responsibilities - and in asking great questions and starting a dialog they get to know you too.  Maybe they are leading an interesting initiative you want to get involved in.  This is a great entry point to meet them.

OUTSIDE - This can be really fun because you can use this to grow in so many ways.  Maybe there is a cause you are really passionate about that you want to incorporate into your career.  Or you want to evolve your career path beyond the specific scope offered at your current employer.  Or you want to start a side gig.  Or just meet new people.  Define your networking goals around what you're looking to accomplish.  Then decide if you want to do this through meeting people one-on-one or through a networking organization or both.  There are lots of great networking groups centered around industries and causes, many for free.  If you want to go the one-on-one route, you can leverage a mutual friend for an introduction or reach out on your own.

You've set your goals and figured out who you want to connect with, now what?

1. Define your story.  Who are you, in 1-2 sentences?  What are you exploring now?  What is the purpose of this networking meeting for you?

2. Do your research.  If you are meeting one-on-one, review the person's LinkedIn profile and understand what their company does.  If you are going to a networking group, research the group to understand their mission and see if you can read about some of the members.  Preparing will help you think of common interests to talk about.

3. Offer to help them.  Find a way to make this mutually beneficial.  Even if you are a few levels more junior to the person you are networking with, there is something you can offer.  Is there an introduction you can make?  A link to an article they may find interesting?

4. Treat to say thank you.  Picking up the tab is a small gesture that says you really appreciate their time.  This goes a long way.

5. Follow up.  Send a thank you note.  Use this as a way to continue the dialog and share your contact information.  Connect on LinkedIn.  And if you promised a follow up make sure you follow through in a timely manner.