More than likely, you have a strategy in place for your career—but how about your network? Many young professionals get to know only the people in and around their employer. This may result in building a closed network of people who have identical degrees and work for similar companies.
Building a well-rounded network
Too often, young professionals’ networks lack diversity in terms of age, race, and gender, as well as role, geographic location, and industry. Just as importantly, they lack people who play specific roles. Here are a few key types of people who every network needs:
Analyzing your network
Analyze your current network to determine what individuals and types of contacts you need to add. Begin by developing a list of everyone you know. Identify how you know that person (e.g., by organization, school, or activity) and who introduced you.
Then determine if your network is open or closed. An open network is one where the majority of your contacts can extend your network to new connections. A closed network, on the other hand, is one where the majority of contacts are closely connected to each other.
A simple way to determine whether your network is open or closed is to identify how many people in your network know each other. If your network does not allow you to reach new contacts, then it’s closed. Then look to see if you have people from all the categories listed above, especially connectors.
Identify opportunities to expand your network
After identifying the people missing from your network, you need to strategically make new contacts. Start by identifying opportunities to meet people within your community. Here are a few ideas:
- Chambers of commerce can be great places to meet prospects, as long as you attend the same events and participate in the same committees as they do.
- Alumni organizations can introduce you to people across industries, particularly if you attended a large university offering many majors and you make an effort to diversify.
- Church groups and committees provide prime opportunities to give back while also meeting influencers and business leaders. It is not unusual to find church committees chaired by community leaders in both large and small communities.
- Charities offer another fantastic opportunity to give back while also raising your community profile.
- Interest groups such as food and wine societies, dining clubs, and cycling or running groups also provide wonderful opportunities to broaden your circle of contacts.
A few final tips
When you’re networking, keep best practices in mind. Be a committed and fully participating member of any groups you join. Stay in touch with your new contacts, and avoid reaching out to them only when you need something. Be yourself and avoid selling. Never be afraid to get to know people outside your industry or age group. Remember that building a solid network is a continuous process. By diversifying your network, you’ll improve your chances of success.
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Christine M. Hollinden, MBA, CPSM, is the founding principal of professional services marketing firm Hollinden.