How to Find Great Contacts and Add Them to Your Professional Network
By Charles Purdy
A large, diverse, and engaged professional network is an important part of a job search. And part of maintaining a professional network means adding to it on a regular basis. Don't wait until you need a favor or are desperate to get your resume in front of a hiring manager! Right now, valuable contacts are on the perimeter of your social circle -- they’re the parents of your kids’ chums, they're in your school's alumni association, and they're your friends' friends. So how do you turn these people from relative strangers into valuable network contacts?
1. Spot good contacts.
An effective professional network has a wide variety of people in it, including people from outside your industry. So how do you decide whether someone you meet at a cocktail party is someone you want in your circle? Well, don't be too scientific about it. Simply liking someone is a very good reason to add him or her to your network.
Look for people who are active in and passionate about their field (whatever it is), and who seem interested in what you’re doing. Also, people who communicate well are likely to be “connectors” who have their own networks that you may be able to tap into.
Always be open to possibilities. That means being friendly and outgoing in your personal life. Go ahead -- strike up a conversation on your next plane trip (but not at the beginning of a long flight -- people are more relaxed and less fearful of getting "trapped" if you wait until the plane is close to its destination).
2. Check your network.
But don't stop at cocktail parties and networking events. Also seek out new contacts: Check your friends' social networks for influential people in your industry, or for people who work at companies on your "dream job" list.
Now -- and this is important -- don't be a spammer! There has to be a reason you're asking for an introduction or introducing yourself -- for example, "I'm a friend of your friend ____; I see we both attended _____ University and are both in advertising -- I'd like to add you to my network of professional contacts" is a valid request. As is asking for an informational interview (say, if you're making a career change). But don't make a connection for no reason.
Of course, the best time to make a connection is when you have something to offer.
3: Offer value.
Effective networking begins long before you need something from your network. Demonstrating that you have something to offer builds a foundation of goodwill. Every time you talk to someone in your professional network, you should ask what he or she is working on, so you’re always aware of the problems your contacts are trying to solve.
So, now you've got your list of desired contacts in mind. The next time you read a great article, attend an industry conference, or know of a job at your company, think of not only the people in your network but also the people on your desired-contacts list. Ask yourself, "Who would benefit from this knowledge?" Then share your knowledge with those people.
And go out of your way to introduce people who you think would benefit from knowing each other (this helps two people at once!).
Another great way to get connected to people is less aggressive but lays a very effective foundation: Simply become an enthusiastic audience member! Follow desired-contacts' blogs, and comment (thoughtfully and professionally). Retweet their tweets (people pay attention to that!). Share their announcements with your networks. And so on.
Of course, there's a fine line between "fan" and "stalker" -- but just keep in mind that if it's creepy in real life, it's creepy in the digital realm, too.
4. Stay in touch.
Your efforts to meet new contacts are wasted if you let relationships lapse. An effective networker is participatory and involved.
Sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be -- in fact, your networking efforts shouldn’t take a lot of time (don’t “spam” your network by mass-sharing things of little value). Read an interesting article or book? Ask yourself who else might benefit from it. Planning to attend an industry conference or networking event?
Find out how you can get more involved. Have something to say? Update your blog and share it with the world.