Next week is Thanksgiving, which marks the beginning of holiday festivities that will carry us through the New Year. The upcoming holidays, and the many gatherings that typically occur, present a good opportunity to evaluate your networking approach and find ways to get started or improve in this area. Developing a network is critical to career advancement – networking connections can help your resume stand-out from the field, help you arrange an interview with a company, or help you follow-up on an opportunity that seems to have stalled. More importantly, networking yields benefits far beyond job search efforts – creating and maintaining meaningful relationships will serve you personally and professionally throughout your career. Your network should encompass people in your world from every angle: Personal, Educational, Professional, Philanthropic, and Spiritual.

Bridging the Networking Gap

The concept of business and social networking has existed for ages – it costs nothing to implement, and requires no special assistance. Yet, it is one of the most frustrating aspects of career development for people of all industries and all ages, especially early careerists. This natural resistance to networking is partially due to lack of familiarity – networking is something that is not taught in school, is not part of any curriculum, and is rarely mandated by employers. While job-seekers practice other skills like interviewing extensively, even attending mock interviews, most do not spend any time practicing networking tactics. That needs to change. At Priority Candidates, we encourage our clients to embrace networking, using tools like LinkedIn or Facebook. We help early careerists to see the longer-term value of network building. We work with our clients to examine who they are connected to, to design approaches to identify new people, and to forge contacts with people from their past.

Three Steps to Networking Success

Use this three-part formula to overcome resistance and begin networking:

1) Fix Your Mindset: Many early careerists think the act of reaching out to people is self-serving or needy. Frankly that is not the case. If you have accepted a request from someone to connect, either via an online tool, or in person, you usually say yes; without analyzing the request deeply simply because it feels nice to be asked and even nicer to accept. Expanding a network is a mutually beneficial endeavor; networks create a resource for mutual development and growth. It is not selfish; learn to be comfortable engaging with others, even if it includes a little self-promotion.

2) Get Comfortable Taking Micro-Risks: While asking someone to connect via LinkedIn might feel like taking a risk, there is no downside. Yes, you might not hear back, but odds are you will. For many people, you are, in fact, already connected; you are simply asking to memorialize your pre-existing relationship on LinkedIn. Be patient, and do NOT expect an immediate response, as people pay episodic attention to most things.

3) Build Habits: Take small action steps. You will be networking for the rest of your life, and building good networking habits is no different than building habits of proper nutrition or physical activity. Take positive actions to build your network; invest in convenient, small time increments to regularly focus on networking, such as Sunday evening as you close out one week and plan for the next.

Habits to Practice

Practice makes perfect? No. Don’t aim for perfection. Simply engage in a set of exercises to cultivate a growing network, in-person and virtually, using LinkedIn, Facebook, email, a notebook, or these tools combined. Here are some fundamental steps you can take to organically build your network:

  • Connect Your Existing Tribe: One crucial part of networking is formalizing existing relationships. Tell people how you are doing and ask to connect. Let them know you were thinking of them. If you see an article that reminds you of them, reach out and share it.

  • Ask About Their Journey: If someone is doing work that is unrelated to where they started out, for example a lawyer who once played in a rock band, reach out to learn what led to such an interesting transition.

  • Say Thank You: Prioritize sending personalized thank you notes throughout your job-search process; even for little things like quick phone calls. You can use LinkedIn to send thank you notes while simultaneously ask to connect.

  • Build Bridges Quickly: If you make a connection, don’t wait to follow-up – reach out online within 24 hours while memories are still fresh in both of your minds.

  • Hit the Books: Skim directories of alumni, yearbooks and conference programs to recall names.

  • Ask to Join forces: Networking doesn’t have to be exclusively with people of higher status than you. Find people in a similar situation to you, such as other alumni in the job market. Connect and help each other.

  • Use Teachable Moments: Make sure to connect with those closest to you – parents, siblings, cousins, etc. If they don’t use LinkedIn, offer to help them learn and be their first connection.

  • Little Things Matter: Send congratulations and birthday wishes along with a thoughtful, personalized note. Don’t just reach out when you need something – remember, the strongest networks are built on real relationships.

  • They Are Not Strangers: Ask people to lunch or coffee – make an effort to reach out to those you don’t interact with otherwise. Try asking the person who held your job before you, or the manager in a different team that seems to be doing interesting work, or an alum from your college who joined another department.

  • No Walls Between Tools: Building a network encompasses all aspects of your life. Don’t limit yourself to online connections. The people around you are precious, so plan ways to connect with them during down time – suggest sharing a meal or take off your headphones and chat during the commute home. Cross walk your connections on other forms of social media with those people nearby.

  • Add Value: Networking should be a two-way street – you shouldn’t solely connect with others looking for ways it will benefit you. When you’re building your network, look for ways that you can help others and add value to the relationship. This will create a mutually beneficial relationship, and will help ease some of the discomfort of appearing needy or asking for help.

At Priority Candidates, helping our clients overcome internal resistance to cultivating a network has had benefits that will last them throughout their careers.Networking allows young careerists to hone their communications skills with a variety of people, and gives them interesting things to talk about both in interviews and socially. It equips young professionals to become more effective collaborators, as they might offer leads from their network to others who are trying to solve problems. Your network might lead you to an innovative inspiration or new hobby.When you are ready, your social networking platform will provide a place to create content and share it about matters that are important to you. Networking is a way to extend and establish your professional foothold, so be sure you focus on developing this skill as you move into and through your career.