By Heather Huhman
The importance of networking is ingrained in the brains of both college students and young professionals. From the first lecture on your future profession, advisers, professors, and alumni begin to gently hint that networking connections will be the most important influence in landing a job. Sounds pretty simple, right? Not necessarily.
Although you know that networking is crucial to job search success, how do you know which networking connections are the right ones to help your career.
Simply searching job boards and sending resumes isn't going to seal the deal. Knowing the right people will allow you to work smarter -- not harder -- to build your professional network. Transform your networking opportunities by identifying the most beneficial networking prospects:
1. Develop a strategy.
While new networking prospects can spring up around every corner, it's best to research and identify the type of people you want in your network. More than likely these will not be the CEOs or human resources managers.
Building a networking relationship with a person who has reached the level of success that you aspire to have and designate them as your mentor. This networking relationship will allow you to learn from their success as well as their mistakes. The mentor in your network will offer important wisdom and experiences that help you develop a unique perspective on the job industry. This person will also be able to watch you evolve throughout your career. Some of the best mentors are your very own college alumni.
Identify an industry-insider who has an expert level of information. Staying informed on the latest information within your field is another successful measure when developing professional relationships. Bounce your ideas and goals off of this person to get a good feel as to what's happening and what the next big thing is.
When it comes to meeting people in an online setting, look to social media websites like LinkedIn and Twitter, where finding key influencers is simplified. Other networking opportunities can be found online by reading industry websites and blogs, online seminars and interacting on forums. This will increase the scope of your network and also allow you to see how other people are building their networks in your career field.
2. Identify specific networking prospects.
After identifying the key types of people you would like in your network, it's time to create a list of specific contacts. Networking isn't about reaching the highest person in the company, it's about building a valuable relationship with the right person.
Whether it's someone you have followed for years on Twitter who happens to be a big-name insider within your industry or a blogger who has inspired you professionally, narrow down your list of networking individuals to get to the people who matter most.
Once you have identified the specific prospects to build your network, be more than just a Twitter handle or an email address. Don't rule out online networking completely, but if the opportunity arises, go the extra mile by inviting to take someone to coffee and learn more about their job experiences.
Being visible and having meaningful conversations around industry-related topics will help you develop a more engaged network. Networking is about two-way communication and gaining valuable and personal insight into a career field. Don't skimp on taking steps to building strong relationships with the individuals in your network.
Smart networking takes research, strategy and visibility. Seeking out individuals to ask for career advice versus asking to be hired is a key step in networking overall. It's important to always remember that networking is the act of building two-way, mutually beneficial relationships. Don't wait until you're unemployed to begin the search for the right networking prospects.
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