People do business with those they know and trust. People working in every industry can benefit from growing their professional network in a myriad of ways including job opportunities, sales and knowledge sharing. Cue the old adage, it's not about what you know it's who you know.

Many young people are encouraged to start networking as soon as possible in order to jump start their careers. However, most are never advised on exactly how to network. In this piece we will explore various forms of networking to demystify methods for growing your professional network.

Polish your online presence

This especially pertains to young people and recent grads, and must occur prior to applying to positions or actively networking.

Most recruiters and hiring managers will Google their candidates and look at the social media profiles. They may even look at who they follow on Twitter. Make sure to take down any questionable photos. Don't let your future employer see anything you wouldn't show your grandmother (switch your social media accounts to private if necessary!).

For those working in the creative fields, social media is often viewed in a different light. It can serve as a powerful tool to showcase your work and exude your creativity.

Create an All-Star LinkedIn profile

Job seekers and those looking to network need a LinkedIn profile. Some 94% of recruiters use LinkedIn to source candidates. LinkedIn designates the best user profiles as "All-Stars". According to LinkedIn, users with complete "All-Star" profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn.

To create and All-Star profile, you need to include seven elements: a profile photo, experience, skills, professional summary, industry and location, education and connections ("friends" on other social networks).

If you are looking for work, make that immediately apparent. Some job seekers will write "seeking opportunities in 'x' industry" as their profile tagline. LinkedIn breaks down recommendations for creating the best "All-Star" profile here.

Lastly, you should request to join relevant LinkedIn groups such as industry specific groups or university alumni groups. Once in those groups, engage in conversations and share interesting content.

Attend networking events

Finding the right networking events to attend can be challenging in and of itself. For casual interest group events, search Meetup or Eventbrite in your local area.

Universities also typically host alumni networking events. If you attended graduate school, those programs often tailor events to specific areas of work. Try posting in your LinkedIn groups to inquire about upcoming events.

For many, attending networking events and striking up conversations with complete strangers can feel mildly agonizing. Before attending a networking event, research some of the attendees. Many will publish an RSVP list on the event page. See if there's anyone in particular you would like to speak with and come prepared with questions. Always remember to be yourself.

If there's a bar, some liquid courage always helps but do not over do it. If you're tempted stick to soda.

Look internally

If you work for a large, global company try to attend training sessions or events where you can network internally.

If that isn't an option, make sure to build rapport with your contacts in other departments, offices and geographies. Volunteer for cross-functional projects where you may get to meet leaders in other areas of the company.

Remember that an internal network is often more beneficial than an external network, especially in the context of career advancement.

Look outside your niche

Never belittle a contact not directly related to your industry. Learning about other lines of work either unrelated or tangential to what you do can expand your knowledge base and make you a better person for it. You also never know when a contact may come in handy. Plus you may even make new friends.

Some of the ways you can network outside your niche include volunteering for local causes, attending alumni events and joining industry- agnostic interest groups.

Be a good listener

One of the best aspects about building a professional network is the opportunity to learn from others. Remember, everyone knows something you don't.

When speaking with networking contacts, listen intently. Instead of thinking about what to say about yourself next, ask them a follow up question. This will not only open up more opportunities to learn, but elevate your own likeability.

In a sales or business relationship scenario, listening well is paramount. Before offering any solutions, ask as many pertinent questions as possible. This will expose pain points, opportunities and more information regarding an organization's structure and goals.

Follow up with connections

After meeting new contacts, be sure to follow up. If you come home from an event with business cards, send your new contacts a follow up message and add them on LinkedIn.

Depending on the type of connection, this is also a great opportunity to ask if you can help them out with anything.

It is important to try to keep in touch with industry contacts, especially those you have met fleetingly. Do this in a timely manner and you will quickly build up your contacts book.

Take a look at Guild's professional messaging app, as an example of a tool that allows you stay engaged with key contacts.

Pay it forward

Perhaps the most important tip about building your network is to pay it forward. Don't always take from your contacts. Two of the best ways to do this are by referring network contacts and sharing job opportunities with your networks.

Likewise, avoid burning bridges at all costs. It pays to invest in your professional networking karma!


Photo by Jakob Dalbjörn on Unsplash.

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