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Career Tips: How to Start Building Your Professional Network.

By: Beau H., Content Manager

Tips and Insights for Establishing a Professional Network from Scratch

There’s a lot of wisdom in the old saying: “there’s never a right time to start.” When it comes to networking, you don’t need to reach a specific career milestone to begin forming meaningful, lasting relationships. Whether you're in school, a recent graduate, just entering the workforce, or even re-entering after an extended hiatus, the significance of networking cannot be overstated.

Keep reading to learn how you can kickstart this essential aspect of your career, no matter where you’re at in your own journey.

Key Insights:
  1. Tailor your networking approach to suit your specific needs.
  2. Embrace curiosity—sharing experiences is a fundamental aspect of networking.
  3. Respect the time of others when seeking to connect.
  4. Remember, networking is reciprocal—be prepared to offer assistance, as well as seek it out.
  5. Clarify your networking objectives to ensure alignment with your career aspirations.
  6. Craft a personal value statement to articulate how your network can support you effectively.

Why a Professional Network Matters

A well-cultivated professional network offers numerous advantages, including:

  • Providing guidance and support throughout your career journey.
  • Facilitating skill acquisition and directing you towards valuable learning resources.
  • Introducing you to like-minded professionals and potential mentors.
  • Assisting in refining your personal brand and messaging.
  • Mitigating the isolation often associated with remote work.
  • Offering pathways to exciting career opportunities.
  • Providing opportunities to extend support to others in your network.

Starting Your Networking Journey: The Importance of Self-Reflection

The foundation of a good professional network lies in self-awareness and clarity of purpose. It’s not about how many people you can bring into your orbit, but rather how those people help you reach your goals – and how your network provides opportunities to give back to those people, too.

Before diving into networking, maximize your future efforts by taking time to reflect on the following questions:

  • What are your networking goals – what do you aim to achieve?
  • What can you contribute to your network?
  • How often can you engage with your network?
  • What are your areas of interest –  for both personal and professional development?
  • What are your preferred modes of networking – in-person, virtually, etc.?

When you define what you want to get out of your network, and how you are going to get it, you can start forming relationships that are helpful to everyone involved.

Rebecca, who is a part of our internal career coaching team, agrees.

“When I talk about networking with peers, we first look for direct ways to define their goals. That really helps folks communicate their needs to people and receive support.”

In other words, the clearer we are about what we’re trying to accomplish, the easier it is for people in our network to provide the support we seek.

One effective way to do that is to craft a personal value statement.

Crafting a Personal Value Statement

A personal value statement serves as a concise representation of your professional identity and aspirations.

There are a lot of ways to go about building this personal value statement. To help you get started, consider including the following four key elements:

  • Introducing yourself and your current role.
  • Highlighting your strengths or areas of passion.
  • Articulating your goals and aspirations.
  • Outlining your proactive approach towards achieving those goals.

A good value statement shows that you know your strengths and the things you want to accomplish. It also shows that you take the initiative to reach your goals, rather than waiting around for success to come to you.

Now that you’ve learned how to define your wants and communicate your needs, let’s explore how you can start creating your network from the ground up.

Building Your Network: Where to Begin

While it may seem daunting to initiate your network from scratch, remember that your network comprises individuals you already know or have connections with. Start by engaging with:

  • Friends, family members, and acquaintances.
  • Former classmates or professors.
  • Alumni associations.
  • Industry-specific groups or forums.
  • Affinity groups aligned with your professional interests.

Navigating Networking Conversations

Approaching networking conversations can feel intimidating, especially for beginners. Remember to bring your authentic self to these talks, and always try to keep things simple and honest.

Here's a quick, easy framework to help guide your interactions:

  1. Express genuine curiosity about the other person's career journey.
  2. Articulate your personal value statement to convey your goals and needs clearly.
  3. Conclude by seeking recommendations for further connections or opportunities. Remember to respect the agreed-upon time frame for the conversation, aiming for a duration of less than thirty minutes.

Utilizing Your Network in Job Searches

When seeking employment opportunities through your network, prioritize relationship-building over immediate requests. After you’ve invested time in these relationships, you can let people know you’re actively looking for opportunities – and if you’ve shared your value statement, they will know what you bring to the table and what roles might be the best fit for you and your unique goals.

Here's some additional tips on how to approach this important step in your networking and job hunting journey:

  • Share your career goals and strengths transparently to facilitate relevant connections.
  • Leverage your personal value statement to remind connections of your expertise and aspirations.
  • Utilize things like LinkedIn posts to make your job search intentions public, all while reinforcing your value proposition to the people you’ve built connections with.

Parting Thoughts

Initiating and nurturing professional relationships may initially seem difficult, but with genuine curiosity, authenticity, and a willingness to reciprocate support, you can establish a valuable network that will benefit you throughout your career.

Now get out there and start connecting with others! Years from now, you’ll be glad you did.