One question that always comes up during my work with young professionals and college students is networking. How can I build and grow my network, especially when face to face meetings are difficult or impossible right now? After all, 85% of job seekers will land their next job via networking (according to a 2016 Linkedin survey), and due to Covid this number is likely higher since companies must rely on recommendations rather than in-person interviews.
So how do you start building a network if you’re a student or young professional?
A good place to start is by knowing the golden rule: “If you want to be successful at networking, you must keep in mind that it really isn’t about you. It’s about building relationships—and relationships aren’t one-way streets.” (Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry)
With this in mind, below are 5 effective ways to build relationships and start growing your network:
1) Get on Linked and Connect!
Open an account and reach out to the former peer you took a course with in college. Connect with people you met at an event or party, or the businesswoman you were chatting with at Starbucks. You can also reach out cold to people in your industry you admire or want to work with one day. Bottom line: Connect, connect, connect! The worst thing that can happen is you don’t hear back – but all it takes is a click. One important caveat: make sure your Linkedin profile is polished and up to date and that your other social media accounts are set to private mode and don’t have content that would embarrass or compromise you. Contacts and future employers are likely to check you out and the first place they’ll visit is your social media.
2) Be consistent and show interest.
Once you’ve connected with someone the biggest mistake is to message them only when you need something from them. Show interest and communicate periodically. For instance, acknowledge birthdays, promotions, or job changes (Linkedin will notify you on this); share articles or videos that may be of interest to your contact; like and comment on their posts or timeline. Whatever you do, be on their radar screen and don’t just pop up for the ask.
3) Be Interested and Bring value.
Be genuinely interested in the person you’re connecting with, rather than trying to be interesting and show offy. This way, you’ll learn more about the other person, their needs, and your shared interests. When you know more about the other person you’ll also be able to identify what you can offer them which is key. Maybe it’s an introduction to someone in your network, or doing something for them in your area of expertise for free. (For example, maybe you’re a graphic design guru or gave some tech experience you could share). The goal is to try and anticipate the other person’ needs, bring value, and give more then you receive.
Remember, “you can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” (Zig Ziglar)
4) Build an Open Network.
This means getting to know people who are NOT LIKE YOU. Yes, people who are different! The idea is to cultivate relationships with people who come from different fields, backgrounds, and industries. This is because when you start moving in different circles you’ll naturally be exposed to new ideas, people, industries, and opportunities. This is where the magic happens. So get out there and don’t just think different, connect different! This is one of the biggest predictors of career success.
5) Be personal.
Everyone in your network is a person not a profile pic. There’s a human being there with dreams, fears, passions, and challenges. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask about how someone has been dealing with Covid, inquire about their health, or share something personal you’ve been going through. Use your best judgement of course as this stuff is likely not suitable for your first interaction. The point is to connect with people on a deeper human level and get to know what makes them tick, what they’re passionate about, and who they really are. The more personal, the more powerfully your connection will be.
If you can follow these five tips consistently you won’t just grow your network, but ultimately, your net worth. Your friends really do determine your future. Or as I like to say, your community is your field of opportunity. Tend to your relationships with care!