Career Craft 101: Mastering Professional Networking

In this job market, having a strong network is critical to your professional survival.

In January, we launched the “Career Craft” series of blog posts designed to cover all the basics of professional development. The first post focused on goal setting; today, we delve into an important task that most career-minded folks have to undertake in order to assure that their goals will be reached: networking.

Establishing professional relationships through networking is often the key to landing your dream job or position. Forbes writer Tai Goodwin stresses that, “In this job market, having a strong network is critical to your professional survival.”

Personal networking can seem awkward or overwhelming if you’re new to the job market -- or just not highly extroverted -- but if done the right way, it can boost your career. Here are some pointers from networking experts to help your next networking experience go smoothly and productively!

Tips for successful professional networking

Know who you want to network with.

Before you can successfully network, it’s important to know who you want in that special constellation of people. Forbes writer Tai Goodwin highlights the types of people you should strive to put in your network circle, including:

  • The Mentor: “This is the person who has reached the level of success you aspire to have. You can learn from their success as well as their mistakes. Heed their wisdom and experience.”

  • The Connector: “This is a person who has access to people, resources and information. As soon as they come across something related to you, they are sending you an e-mail or picking up the phone. Connectors are great at uncovering unique ways to make connections, finding resources and opportunities that most people would overlook.”

  • The Industry Insider: “This is someone in your chosen field who has expert-level information or access to it. This person will keep you informed of what’s happening now and what the next big thing is.”

Goodwin delves into why it’s important to create a diverse professional network. She writes: “The trick is to make sure you are building a diverse network by adding people from different industries, backgrounds, age groups, ethnic groups, etc. that fit into the roles listed above. Building a deep network by only including people from your current profession or business focus leaves too many stones unturned, limiting potential opportunities.”

Do your research.

Possible employers love when potential job candidates are engaged and knowledgeable about their company because they've done their research. This is true even when you strike up an informal conversation at an event such as a presentation.

Kate Ryan, writing in her role as the University of Toledo chapter president of the Public Relations Student Society of America, says, “Nothing impresses a presenter more than students who have done their research on both the topic and speaker. The standouts are the students asking insightful and relevant questions at the end of the presentation. Not only does the presenter see your hard work, but it’s noticed by the rest of the professionals at the event.” She also adds that doing the right research and asking the right questions will “not only get you noticed, but will show you are genuinely interested in what the presenter is talking about.”

Ryan also stresses the importance of showing gratitude and dedication because for many employers, it can be a tell-tale sign of your character. She explains why: “Stay after the event has ended and chat a bit. It shows you are going the extra mile because you want to and are interested in establishing relationships.”

Possible employers love when potential job candidates are engaged and knowledgeable about their company because they have spent time doing research about them. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay.)

Offer your help first.

A great way to stand out while networking is by offering your help first, instead of the other way around. Nicole Fallon of Business News Daily asserts that by providing value first, experiencing reciprocity is much more likely.

“Many individuals come into a networking event with a problem or challenge they're facing and immediately seek answers from others,” Fallon writes. “When you meet people, ask questions and discover how you can provide value to them first, instead of the other way around. Ask yourself what you can bring to the table, and share tips with others to be helpful.”

Know the No’s.

Just as it’s important to know what to do in networking, it may be even more important to know what not to do. You only get one first impression, so it’s critical to make sure it’s a positive reflection!

Nicole Fallon (in another great article!) discussed this point with Mike Muhney, CEO of vipOrbit. He asserted that when it comes to how one presents oneself on social media, images connoting greed, pride, anger, envy, sloth, or any of the other “Seven Deadly Sins” can be an instant turn-off to professionals.

"Generally speaking, the complete antidote to the seven deadly networking sins is nothing more than simply being nice to all people all the time," Muhney said. "In fact, some relationship experts estimate that simply being nice can result in a 30 to 40 percent increase in success. Who ever thought that simply being nice could in fact be the very thing that completely sets you apart and distinct from everyone else, and helps pave your road to success?"

If nothing else, being respectful, personable and genuine may be your best bet in your first steps to building that professional network.

Remember that you don’t have to be the subject of every interview.

For many, the word “interview” automatically correlates to dress slacks, prepared answers and a portfolio. However informational interviews, which can often be the next step after a networking connection, can be a great source to learning about choosing or refining a career path, or entering your chosen field. Informational interviews also can be much more comfortable for those conducting them, as they are asking the questions, making it feel as if they’re in control.

Bates University has developed a good guide to informational interviewing, and it highlights questions to ask, such as:

  • How did you get started in this type of work?
  • Can you describe a typical day or week on the job?
  • What is the best way to enter this occupation?
  • Do you have any advice for someone interested in this field?

These are all great questions that allow you to find out specific information about your respected career choice and can help form a professional relationship with your interviewee.

 ~Katie Woo, communications assistant, ASU Alumni Association