Having a professional network isn’t just about a bunch of old colleagues or work buddies. A solid professional network will consist of individuals who can vouch for your work ethic, managers, customers, and anyone else you’ve worked with on a professional level. Of course, you don’t necessarily want to expand your professional network to add individuals that you’ve had a disagreement with or that you feel would negatively impact your ability to present a professional impression. It is important to build a professional network with individuals you trust and have a great relationship with. Of course, you have to provide the same for those that include you in their professional network.
Social Media Does Not Equal Professional Network
Now that we know what a professional network is, let’s focus on what it is not. A professional network is not your group of Facebook friends. In fact, I would keep your professional network and your social media network very separate. The reason this is so important is because you can’t control what your social media “friends” or connections are doing on their end. For some that keep their social media accounts open to the public, what your connections write on your wall or account, can be toxic to your professionalism. The last thing you want is for your prospective employer to look into your social media accounts (because they will) and find a bunch of unprofessional and damaging content. Keep your professional network and your social media separate.
4 Ways to Expand Your Professional Network
Here are some ways you can expand your professional network and make lasting connections that will prove to be helpful should you need to call on them.
1. Attend Networking Events
There are so many different ways to expand your professional network, but none more effective than either attending live in person networking events or live virtual events. Some networking events are simply after hours/happy hour events where you get a chance to rub shoulders with a vendor or company that is looking to hire. Other events such as VMworld or Cisco Live offer you an opportunity to meet with hundreds of others like you that are professionals in their career field. Look for networking events online, and opportunities to meet with others so you can build your professional network.
2. Keep in Touch
When you create a professional network, that’s not the end of it. You have to keep in touch. If you have contacts that you haven’t spoken with in over a year, reach out to them… or take them out of your network because they have no idea what you’ve been up to for the past year. It’s good to keep in touch with the people in your network, so you can keep them abreast of what you’ve been working on, or maybe get their permission to use them as a professional reference. The last thing you want to happen is to put down someone’s name/email address/phone number on an application as a reference just to have them tell the recruiter they don’t know what you’ve been doing or provide out of date information. Just reach out from time to time – even a short text message to check in could be helpful.
3. Stay Updated
Lastly, make sure that your resume is up to date with the latest job information and skills. Check the websites you’ve used in the past to update your profile and upload the latest copy of your resume for others to see. To make it easy, any time you get a new certification or have learned a new skill, take the time to pull up your resume and add it. Each year that passes should produce a new updated resume saved with that year in the file name. This is a good way to keep up to date and differentiate between which resume to use should you need to send it out.
4. Give Back
Most importantly, make sure that you are giving back to others when they are in need of a professional reference. In order to reap the benefits of having a solid professional network, you need to give back to others. Networking is about making connections, but there is no connection without both ends working together.
Your professional network will thrive if you put things into practice. So, whether it’s in person or virtually, get out there and attend networking events, keep in touch, stay updated and give back.