5 Tips For Building an Effective Professional Network

BlogHer Original Post

Networking can really boost your career, especially when you're entering a new field. Your professional network can be a source for mentoring, job opportunities and other vital connections. In this post, Margaret Young shares strategies for identifying your potential network and making it a reality. Young is currently CEO of Mill Square Group, a marketing services company specializing in growth strategy development and online marketing. She recently launched a new social networking platform, Our Club Collection, addressing the desire of elite social and professional organization memberships to privately network and share online.

BlogHer: What does an effective professional network look like? Who is included in it?

Margaret Young: Think of your network as your personal "coaching team." The people you want to network with may include:

  • "A" players in the function or career path you are pursuing
  • Professors who are experts in your field
  • Executives in companies that you'd like to explore -- no matter what role they may play
  • Accomplished leaders in related disciplines or functions that can help you understand the "bigger picture"

Pay attention to finding people whose management styles you can learn from, or whose life situations offer relevant insights on creating balance between work and home.

What factors are important in creating a professional network?

Identifying the people you need to know and knowing how to engage them is critical. As a start, get names and referrals from your current professional and personal network. The next step is finding a way to connect with these key people in your field. You can often find common connections by using tools like LinkedIn and Google. You may want to identify and join the networks, communities and associations that leaders in your field are likely to be a part of -- online and in person -- and invest in conferences where they will be speaking or attending. Be singularly focused on meeting them once you're in the same room or online discussion. Also make sure that your online identity reflects who you are and what you want to do -- it's as important as how you come across in person!


Can you give us some examples of useful networking priorities or goals?

Doing your research is job one! Make a list of people, companies and industries you want to learn more about. Then, prioritize the list based on existing personal connections you may have, and start with those. To prepare for the conversation, develop your own personal "elevator pitch" that concisely articulates what you're trying accomplish and specifically what's unique about that person or organization that can help -– make them feel special!

Do you have some tips for networking etiquette?

Understand that your desired connections are likely busy and it may take many contacts to make a connection – even with a strong referral! Ask what types of communications they prefer – phone, email, texts? Make it easy for them to connect with you – over breakfast, coffee, lunch, quick drinks – at the airport or train station. Be persistent but not annoying if – after your first follow-up –- there is no immediate response; wait a week before following up.

How can adult students find time for networking?

Even a few minutes a day can make a huge difference in how connected to opportunities you are. First, get organized and make a weekly list of the phone calls you’ll make, organizations you’ll join or events you’ll attend to connect with the people and companies you want to connect with. Commit to making one action each day to move you forward. Quickly perusing discussions and members of relevant online communities only takes 5-10 minutes of your day.

Even a call to a friend to see who they may know counts as action toward building your network. In the end, the time you set aside for networking will make a huge difference in the opportunities that are available to you. So start making that "to meet" list today!

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Kaplan University provides a practical, student-centered education that prepares individuals for careers in some of the fastest-growing industries. The University, which has its main campus in Davenport, Iowa, and its headquarters in Chicago, is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (www.ncahlc.org). It serves more than 53,000 online and campus-based students. The University has 11 campuses in Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland and Maine, and Kaplan University Learning Centers in Maryland, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri and Florida.

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