Whether you are looking for a new job, looking to develop skills, or just want to meet new people, you should grow and deepen your network. That begins with meeting new people, and includes possibly going to networking events.
When you go to an event, or meet someone new, you should make sure you keep the connection. Don’t wait until you feel like you need to call on that person. We are more likely to help people when we already have a relationship or connection with them.
Networking, at its core, is about relationships. So, in order to make the most of your networks, you have to focus on relationships with interest and intention.
Here are a few tips on how to expand your network:
1. Be intentional about building relationships.
I have found that although some relationships grow and flourish organically, most of them require some effort and intentionality.
This is particularly true when you have met someone at a networking event. I recommend going to coffee (it is quicker, easier, and cheaper than lunch or dinner), with the goal of getting to know the other person. Don’t go with an agenda or things you have to achieve, just focus on getting to know them.
Also, an important thing to remember is to actively listen. Here is a fantastic TED Talk on “How To Have a Good Conversation” with Celeste Headlee.
This can go without saying, but sometimes even I catch myself not really listening to what people say, but just waiting on them to finish. Don’t let this happen when you are working on getting to know people. If you’ve noticed your thoughts drifting away, catch yourself and get back to the conversation. If you still can’t focus, politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
2. Ask about their job and career path.
In addition to aiding in getting to know someone, finding out more about their careers and their day-to-day can help you fine-tune your career goals. We are all early in our careers, and finding out more about what other people do can help you as you evaluate your career.
Here are a few examples of questions to ask:
— “How did you end up in your current position?”
— “I’d love to hear more about what lead you to pursue [something they spoke about].”
— “Did you always want to be a [their job]?
— “What surprised you the most about your current position?”
3. Ask them about their volunteer efforts.
Again, this can help build the relationship, but it can also help you decide what organizations you would like to be involved in.
A lot of cities have young professional groups, in addition to organizations that seek out volunteers. Volunteering with a friend is more fun, and the people in your network can give you advice on the best organizations to be involved in and can help you get involved in what they are doing.
4. Ask them to connect you with people in their network.
Dr. Meg Jay introduced the idea of weak ties in her book The Defining Decade. Dr. Jay argues that we hear of new jobs and move ahead in our careers because of our weak ties, not our established relationships.
A great way to meet and connect with new people (and those you have “weak ties” to through someone in your network) is by having people in your network connect you to other people. This can be especially helpful if you are looking for a new job, career change, or contact in a field.
5. Don’t forget to connect on LinkedIn and follow up after you meet with them.
LinkedIn can help connect you with other people and is quite beneficial if you are looking for a new job. Make sure to connect with the people in your network there. Also, make sure your profile is up to date and have a headshot as your profile photo.
Also, you should follow up with them after you meet. This can be in the form of an email or a handwritten card. Handwritten cards are great for people you want to just touch base with or want to send them something thoughtful. If you are scheduling a meeting or need something, send an email. But handwritten cards are a wonderful gesture. And everyone likes receiving mail.
Don’t forget to exchange business cards! That way, you’ll have their contact information, and they’ll have yours. Here is a list of what to include on really effective business cards.
Networking is great, but make sure you go deeper than the networking conversations you have at events. It is important to build the relationship before you feel like you need help or advice.
Be deliberate about building relationships with the people in your network. It allows you to help them with your skills, and vice versa.
Go to coffee with someone who you would like to know better in the next few months and see what happens. You never know what can come out of a coffee meeting!