Gig Tips: 9 ways to enhance your professional network


I look back on the different jobs that I’ve had, the opportunities that I have had, and also the future outlook for myself (professionally speaking) and I cannot under-estimate the value of the network of individuals whom I have had the pleasure (or  sometimes displeasure) of interacting.

Do you know that I reach out to my network for personal and/or professional reasons AT LEAST WEEKLY to help me navigate through a problem and/or obtain information.   Most of the time I’m leveraging my network on a DAILY basis, but at a minimum I would say I’m leveraging it weekly.

network

Image source:  collegemedianetwork.com

How can you improve YOUR professional network?

  1. Realize and know the sources of the people in your network.  For me, my network consists of:
    • existing/previous colleagues
    • alumni from graduate school/college/highschool
    • existing/ previous clients
    • friends and/or neighbors in select fields (personal friends, moms/dads at daycare, moms/dads of your kids’ friends, etc.
    • select friends of friends, in select field
    • select individuals who have touched the work that I do through the years (e.g., vendors, partners, people I have interviewed, etc.)
  2. Keep contact information up-to-date; I am a fanatic about keeping my Outlook and personal email contact lists up-to-date with current email addresses and snail-mail addresses.  Whenever I receive an email from someone I have not heard from in a long time, I make sure the email info is current in Outlook, my personal email address book, etc.
  3. Use LinkedIn.   I am an avid user of LinkedIn.  I cannot believe the power of this tool and responsiveness of people who then become part of my own network once I start working with them
  4. Use alumni databases.  I use alumni databases extensively to find people in the right locations, companies, or skillsets that I need help with; also message boards that are set up within the alumni databases I find to be extremely useful
  5. Know how you most feel comfortable in reaching out; feel confident and believe in your story when reaching out; I’m definitely more email heavy than many people.  I’m a visual person and a record of something tends to work best with me (no kidding, hence this blog).   I do use phone, however less frequently.  I find that my first phone call outreach is a bit awkward, but once I get my story down and the reason why I’m reaching out, the dialogue gets much better and I am much more at ease with verbal outreach.   I love interacting with people and find that face-to-face for me works best – I will go out of my way for face-to-face meetings where at all possible – and my favorites are over food and/or drinks.  🙂
  6. Be genuine.  Reaching out to most people are usually when you need something.  Let’s face it.  But sometimes, I reach out to people just because I am thinking about them (e.g., ex-collegues whom are now my friends), or if I come across information or something that I think would be of interest to someone specifically.   I’ve had people reach out to me with canned emails around my birthday with the wrong information about me in their database – each time I get these I cringe; in my outreach to my network I try as best I can to personalize everything.   You build a reputation over years and decades… but you can destroy a reputation in a millisecond.   So in my communications I try to be sincere and genuine – and those that know me know that I write / email like I talk…  I try to make email communications personal and as human as possible.
  7. Be responsive.  If someone in my network is reaching out to me (email, VM) I do my best to respond within 24 hours, if possible.   This is similar to a recent post I did on Give and Take — if someone is reaching out to me for help, I want to give them the respect and respond as quickly as I can – I want to recognize them, see them, and let them know that I am dependable.  What comes around goes around.  I am much better at this in my professional life than my personal life.  Just ask my mom or the best of my friends.   😦
  8. Grow your network selectively.  I have done this by:
    • Asking for contacts through existing contacts, friends of friends
    • Joining appropriate groups in LinkedIn or other on-line forums
    • Opening myself up to the prospect of meeting new people at work events, conferences, kids’ school events/ parents of kids’ friends, social gatherings, industry networking events, the person sitting next to me on the plane….
    • Opening myself up to change – a new job, a new place to live, a new role at the company, a new hobby, a new parenting support group…
  9. Use it!   Make it a habit of leveraging this asset – get comfortable with it!!   The more active you get at maintaining and reaching out to people in your network, the more comfortable you will be at networking in general and continuously building upon it and leveraging the power of the people you know – but in a genuine way.

I’ll likely be talking / posting about some or all of the above in more detail at a later time, but I wanted to start my thinking at least at this level and we can go from there.

Any input ladies?  Any other ideas on how to build, cultivate, and nurture your professional network to help with your job/career?

Thanks for listening –

– Mama K

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