Online Professional Networking for Beginners

Online Professional Networking for Beginners

Professional networking

By Charles Purdy
Even though you may have plenty of Facebook friends or spend a healthy amount of time on Twitter, you may not think that you can (or should) do "professional networking" online. Perhaps you think of networking as something that only executives or salespeople do at big conventions. Maybe you want to keep your online life and your work life separate. Or maybe you just think that professional networking is too time-consuming or boring.
But the fact is, networking is an important part of job searching and career maintenance in just about any industry you can name -- and for people at any stage in their careers. "Who you know" matters, now more than ever.
Keep It Professional

A huge concern of new networkers is presenting a professional appearance to the world. But that doesn't mean you have to be "all business" online -- just as most people aren't all business at work. They chat about their personal lives, vacation plans, pop culture, and so on; they just do so appropriately (keeping any questionable details to themselves). A good rule of thumb is "If you don't want a future boss to see it, don't put it on the Web."

Offer Value

A big mistake of novice networkers is to begin only when they need something -- if you can, try to avoid starting your networking efforts when you need a favor (that's a bit too late). The best time to approach a new contact, or ask for an introduction, is when you have (or could potentially have) something to offer.

Make It Diverse

Another mistake of novice networkers is to "network" only within their industry or profession. Don't be shy about reaching out professionally to people from a broad spectrum of careers.

A good professional network is an interconnected web of people who have mutually beneficial relationships -- people who are one another's referrers, mentors, recommenders, idea generators, gut-checkers, and so on. You'll need a diverse group.

Put Your Best Face on It

A clear photo of your face is the best online avatar you can use -- it projects a professional image in a way that a cartoon character, a group shot, or a picture of your dog can't. A smiling face will help you win new contacts when you introduce yourself and ask to connect.

Are you shy about asking for a professional connection? One great way to introduce yourself is by paying a compliment. For instance, if you see that a "friend of a friend" is in marketing at a company you might like to work at or do business with someday, you might start a relationship by saying something like "I loved your company's latest marketing campaign. I'm in marketing myself and see that we're both friends of ____, so I wanted to introduce myself."