We’ve all heard that it’s not what we know, it’s who we know. That often feels true in the workplace. Beyond promotions and climbing the corporate ladder, having good connections within your industry can help you throughout your career. Not everyone is a natural networker, and some people are more outgoing than others and seem to network easily. Networking isn’t a zero-sum game, however, so even if you’re not the most popular person at industry events, you may have a bigger network than you think you do. So how can you make and utilize your network to get ahead?
Well, it’s important to see how a good network of industry contacts can help you. There are obvious benefits like finding people who can help you look for a new job, or navigate a tricky work situation. Beyond that, there are tangential benefits as well, in that your contacts may give you access to people beyond your industry which could open up new opportunities you haven’t even considered yet. And, you might make some real friends who become part of your personal friend network as well.
The first step is to keep in touch. Often that means making social media contact with people in your industries. Never be annoying, just shoot off a friend request, or follow someone, after you’ve met them and got to know them a bit. There’s no need to be overly friendly, just keep them in your contacts and interact with them organically. Social media is a great way to turn a casual contact into an acquaintance or even friend. It’s also a great way to keep in touch with people who may move from one company to another. Their address or email address may change, but social media profiles usually stay the same.
Another good idea is to keep in touch with co-workers who move on to other jobs or companies. Even if they switch industries, it’s a good idea to keep in touch once or twice a year—think about sending a birthday text or message, or just checking in once-in-a-while. The core concept of a social network is that you have access to people even beyond the people you personally know, so think of every person you keep in your contact list as representing several other people you don’t.
If you want a good network, it’s a good idea to make yourself an active member of the community. Participate in industry events and organizations, attend fundraisers, show up for product launches and retirement parties. When people start to expect to see you at anything industry related, you’ll begin to have name and face recognition which may lead to more and more people seeking you out.
And finally, the best way to maintain a good industry network is to be someone other people want to know. You always want to be a good contact to have. That means letting people in your network know about opportunities that might work for them, or lending a hand or offering advice, even mentoring. Sometimes you don’t know immediately what the benefits of being a good industry friend will be, but just assume there will be some. Plus, if you help people you’ll just start earning good industry karma which is never a bad thing.