Professional networking, or creating mutually beneficial business relationships, is an essential part of building a successful career. From getting a job offer to establishing partnerships, a person’s network is often the determining factor in business opportunities. According to LinkedIn data, nearly 80% of business professionals consider networking important to career success. In fact, LinkedIn outlined that candidates referred to a company are nine times more likely to be offered a position. The value of a network cannot be overstated.
Creating and maintaining a network can be challenging, but it’s well worth the work that goes into it. Below are some professional networking dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you build your network.
Professional Networking Dos
- Be open to opportunities. Everyone you meet is an opportunity to increase your network. Whether you’re waiting in line to grab a coffee, on a layover at the airport, or checking out at the grocery store, opportunities to connect with others abound.
- Make opportunities. "Look through your existing LinkedIn network for possible new connections. Either ask your mutual connection to introduce you, or send a brief note directly asking if the person has 15-30 minutes to hop on a phone call or a Zoom," says Michelle Zeitler founder of Amplify Non-Profit, an online networking program for nonprofit leaders.
- Be prepared. Develop a natural-sounding elevator pitch with a quick, concise, and accurate description that represents you and your business. While it may seem old school, make sure you have business cards that reflect your current contact information, social profiles, and website.
- Join professional organizations and volunteer. There are many benefits to joining professional organizations and volunteering, chief among them are the people you will connect with through your associations. When you join organizations in your field, you meet others with interests similar to your own. Remember, you only get out what you put in, so find an organization you love and be active.
- Send thank-you notes. Being courteous and sending a simple “thank you” still goes a long way. If someone in your network has helped you with a project, showed you a new opportunity, or connected you with someone, it's nice to express your gratitude through a note.
- Be authentic. “One of the most underrated networking tips is to be authentic,” said Julie Zuick, CEO, 360 Executive Search & Branding, an executive search, and professional branding organization. “Everyone you meet has a unique story, background, and their own gifts to lend to someone’s career. At some time, you might find yourself in a position to help someone or you may need someone to lean on, so it’s important to be authentic, live your values and be a good neighbor when it comes to networking.”
- Give more than you take. If you are presented with an opportunity to help someone by connecting them to someone that could help them expand their business in some way, do it. Generosity is oftentimes met with generosity.
- Maintain your presence. Update your social media networks regularly, but don’t overdo it. Make sure your engagement feels natural, rather than overwhelming.
- Behave professionally. This is not to say that if you’re at a networking event you can’t enjoy a cocktail, but remember that sometimes you only get one impression, so make it count. You don’t want to be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Professional Networking Don’ts
- Don’t forget to follow up. Whether you send an email or connect via social media, don’t forget to follow up with new connections.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The vast majority of people relish in the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise, so ask as many questions as you can. And when you’re asked a question, be sure to answer with the same enthusiasm as you would hope to receive.
- Don’t be a taker. It’s easy to forget about your network until you need something, but it’s important to build trust and respect through continuous interaction. Make it a point to keep in touch with those you have connected with, even (and especially) when you are not in need of something.
- Don’t get discouraged when you face rejection. Not every person you attempt to network with is going to be a good match for you. If someone denies your invitation to meet up or take your initial meeting to a deeper level, move on and don’t take it personally.
- Don’t forget to listen. The 80/20 rule is a great rule of thumb. Listen 80 percent of the time, ask questions 10 percent of the time, and share your own thoughts and opinions 10 percent of the time.
- Don’t update just to update. With relation to social media networks—share relevant news, articles, and accomplishments. People will naturally tune out if you aren’t providing educational, entertaining, or otherwise helpful content.
- Don’t overshare. Remember who your audience is and cater to them based on the platform you’re using.
Expanding your network does take time and effort, but it’s worth it through increased opportunities, the creation of authentic connections, and overall satisfaction with your career.
Impact Opportunity would like to thank Karen Butterfield for her work in writing this article. Karen is the Founder of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm. Prior to launching the company, Karen served as a Director of Communications for an executive recruiting firm and spent nearly a decade as a reporter and editor for an award-winning community newspaper and publishing company. During her tenure there, Karen earned more than a dozen state and national awards for her work. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Webster University in St. Louis.