As a young professional just starting out in your career, it can be hard to know how to build a professional network. When you’re starting from scratch, the task seems daunting. However, there’s no denying that a strong network is one of the keys to a successful career. Connections are a great way to get a job, to find a mentor, and to get inspiration. The top leaders in today’s business world will tell you their network is the most important element of their professional toolkit.
But how can you build a professional network if you’re starting from zero? This is a question many students and recent graduates find themselves asking. It’s true that developing a strong network takes years, and a lot of hard work. But don’t worry – it’s not impossible to get started. Even if you can’t attend large in-person networking events right now, there are still endless ways to make lasting connections.
Try these five tips if you’re trying to make key professional connections:
1. Connect with alumni
The best place to start building a network is with people you already know, or who share a similar background. Alumni groups from your university are excellent hunting grounds for useful contacts. Many universities have Facebook groups for alumni. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of these resources! Ask your fellow alumni for advice on your industry or a job application. You might even find a great reference or a resource who’s willing to do an informational interview. In addition to university alumni, think about groups you’ve been a part of, such as fraternities or sororities. Alumni of those groups can also make great resources, and can connect you to people they know outside of the alumni circle. And don’t forget that you can give back to these groups as well! Keep an eye out for people you might be able to help, or introductions you could make.
2. Get active on social
Social media is increasingly becoming the leading tool for communication within many industries. Follow leaders in your field on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Tik Tok! Engage with their content, and connect with others in your field. This will ensure you have a good sense of what’s going on in the industry. You’ll also know who the key players are, and get their advice on success.
3. Schedule informational interviews
Networking usually becomes a priority for people actively looking for a new job. Keep in mind that in order to build a professional network, you need to make connections when you’re not looking for a job too. Informational interviews are a great way to make connections and get advice that you can use later when you do begin a job search. Reach out to your existing connections and ask to schedule a few minutes of their time. Don’t shy away from cold calling either. Identify a list of people whose advice you would truly like to hear. These should be professionals who have a job you’d like to someday try, or who have a career trajectory you aspire to. Reach out to them and explain why you’d like to chat. Of course, not everyone will get back to you, but there are definitely a lot of people willing to lend some time to someone just starting out.
4. Don’t be afraid of LinkedIn
Many young professionals enter the job market without ever having used LinkedIn seriously. However, LinkedIn is still the top professional platform for most industries. It’s a perfect tool for identifying those professionals you’d like to schedule informational interviews with. It also has a tool for finding out which of your existing connections can make useful introductions at a company or in a field. Of course, the first step is to spruce up your own LinkedIn profile. Make sure to write a succinct but compelling description of yourself, and keep it updated as you change jobs or gain new experience.
5. Follow up and stay in touch
The most important thing to do as you’re building a professional network is to follow up with people you meet, and then stay in touch with them. When you meet someone in person at an event, ask for their business card or their email. If you don’t get that, find them on LinkedIn, and send a personalized message with your connection request. For people who spend time chatting and giving you advice, make sure to send a quick thank-you email, as well as connecting on the relevant platforms. Continuing to engage with these connections after your initial introduction is key. Fortunately, LinkedIn makes that very easy. Another great way to build and maintain those bonds is to make introductions of your own. Remember – as you’re building your network, always be thinking about what you can do for your new connections, and not just what they can do for you.
Start building your network with a virtual internship in your chosen field today!