How Can You Improve Your Professional Network?

How Can You Improve Your Professional Network?

Networking Isn’t As Painful As You’d Think
Many job seekers wince when I mention networking. I believe networking has garnered a bad reputation since the 1990s, when it became a sale-pitch, hard-sell, manipulative practice of pretending to be interested in people just to gather useful data on them.

But that’s not what networking really means. It’s actually a pleasant process of building relationships, and it can really help in your job search. At its core, networking consists of connecting with people, helping them when you can, and asking for help when you need it. Sometimes networking involves meeting new people (as at a party or informational interview) and sometimes it consists of strengthening relationships you already have.

7. Make Connections by Being Present
In conversation, when you’re listening to someone and they ask what you’re up to, you have a legitimate reason to tell them what you do and that you’re looking for work. But that’s not where networking begins. As I said, networking is making connections. It’s a long-term process that begins with making a good first impression and extends to helping people whenever you can. Let’s talk about the two ways networking really works: cultivating existing relationships, and building new connections.

6. Foster Existing Relationships
An email to someone you haven’t talked to in a few months to say, “Hi! How are you? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. Want to get a cup of coffee or lunch soon?” is a friendly thing to do, and it helps keep connections strong. That’s not manipulative and it’s not begging for a job. It’s just saying hi to a colleague or friend and showing that you’re invested in your personal relationship. Do this a little bit all year every year, and you’ll have strong connections on which to draw when you’re looking for work. After you’ve opened the door by reconnecting, when you do have an opening to talk about your news, mention that you’re looking for work. People who already know you will likely be willing to help if they can.

5. Be Specific
It doesn’t do much good, often, to simply say, “I’m looking for work.” Be specific. If an acquaintance works at a company you’d like to work for, ask them, “How does your company post job openings? I’ve already checked on LinkedIn and the Careers page…do you have any insight into the process?” Sometimes they can give you information about how Human Resources prefers to get information about candidates. Perhaps they can offer to submit a resume for you, since internal referrals often carry more weight than outside submissions. Perhaps they know nothing now but will remember your conversation when someone asks them if they can recommend a good designer.

4. Keep Talking
Friends and colleagues you often talk with are also good resources. Your friends probably know you’re looking for work (if they don’t, you’re not doing this right…tell them!) But you can keep the topic fresh by telling them, briefly, about an interview you have, a project you’ve completed, a job you’ve applied for, or an article you’ve read on how to be the best candidate you can be. Talking about job hunting doesn’t have to be boring or annoying. If some small part of your process has intrigued you, tell that story. Just discussing the work part of your life will remind your listener that your primary job right now is looking for a job (or if you’re a contract worker, looking for the next project.)

3. Tell Your Story
People who aren’t currently looking for work don’t often think in terms of links to jobs, so mention to a colleague that you’re applying for a job. Ask them if they happen to know anyone at a specific company in their industry. They might not have thought about it unprompted, but once they know what company you’re targeting, they might tell you they have access to an internal resource whom you can email with a few questions about the company, or to whom they can forward your resume.

2. Beware Social Gaffes
You’ve probably heard the advice about social networking with new people that you should repeat a person’s name when you’re talking with them. And you undoubtedly know by now that you should be able to discuss what you do briefly, in a rehearsed “elevator pitch” of what you’re looking for. In case someone asks.
While you’re patting yourself on the back for remembering names and creating and practicing your elevator pitch, read this article to make sure you haven’t made egregious mistakes in your job-seeking pitch.

1. Heed the People Behind the Titles
But often, work parties and group events involve meeting many people and bravely trying to enter conversations you find interesting. For these larger events, I love a social-situation tip I found at When you introduce someone, whether they’re an old friend or a new acquaintance, announce them by their passion. “Naomi, this is John. John, this is Naomi, an amazing web designer.” This gives Naomi and John something to talk about, gives Naomi a window to discussing her design skills, and gives both of them the memory that Naomi = design. Plus it makes Naomi feel good, which makes her more likely to be animated and confident in the ensuing conversation, which in turn will make the conversation more enjoyable and memorable for all three of you.

And that’s ideal networking: making conversations pleasant and memorable so people associate you with positive situations. When people see you in a positive way, they’re more likely to help you get what you need: a job!