12 March 2014
Most job seekers know the importance of networking and the various ways to do so. From career fairs to reaching out to fellow alumni, there are a multitude of ways to seek others in your industry to connect with. But once you’ve identified a network of professional contacts with whom you feel there can be a mutually beneficial relationship, how do you strengthen and maintain it over time? Of course, one of the biggest faux pas of networking is only reaching out when you want something. It’s important to reach out to offer help, share news and industry updates, and the like in order to maintain a genuine connection rather than an exploitive one. Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to a communicative network: Step One: Connect on LinkedIn. When you meet someone you’d like to network with, your first step should be to add them to LinkedIn (or invite them to join if they haven’t yet) with a personalized message. When you do so, LinkedIn will send you email updates about your new connection, including anniversaries, career changes, promotions, etc. Just make sure you have the applicable notification settings enabled so you get these emails and don’t miss an important update. Step Two: Take advantage of birthdays, holidays, and special milestones. Once you receive these updates, be sure to use them to their full potential. If your contact receives a promotion, for example, send a congratulations their way! This also applies to holidays, birthdays, and other events and milestones. Sending an email or calling to say congrats can go a long way and spark some conversation. Step Three: Send your connection(s) relevant articles. When you come across something interesting that you think a particular connection would enjoy reading or benefit from in some way, send it over. This is one of the easiest ways to start conversing and, as a bonus, it shows you have them and their best interest in mind. Step Four: Keep in touch regarding industry news. There is no better reason to reach out than to discuss the latest advances in your industry and what they mean for your careers. Even an email to ask if your contact has heard of the latest industry news can be a great conversation starter. Step Five: Invite a contact or two to professional events. Going to a networking event? Bring one—or several—of your current contacts! They may notice something or someone you don’t, and if they make a great connection as a result of your invite, they’ll be sure to keep you in mind for the future as well. Step Six: Just ask to catch up! If it’s been a while since you’ve spoken to a contact, don’t let the distance grow until you need something. Reach out and simply say that you haven’t spoken in a while and you’d like to reconnect. In most cases, your contacts should be receptive to this and appreciate the honesty. Remember, there are plenty of means for staying in touch, but meeting in person—even for just a quick coffee—is the best way to network.