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"Building your professional network is the key to reliable, long-term professional development."

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How To Build A Professional Network From Scratch

How To Build A Professional Network From Scratch

Whether you're new to the industry or you're a seasoned expert in your field, having a network of professional connections provides you with a powerful tool to move your career forward.

This makes sense! When given the choice, people choose do business with people they know, like, and trust. Some doors simply can’t be opened without an existing relationship or strong, meaningful introduction.

In terms of a your job search, a 2012 study by ABC News found that 80% of today’s jobs are landed through networking -- and an April 2016 report by CareerBuilder shows that 60% of employers use social networking sites to research potential job candidates (up from 52% in 2015). Data from Jobvite has found that 93% of hiring managers review a candidate's social profiles before the final hiring decision is made. No matter how you slice it, who you know tells a story about who you are, and will potentially give you a major advantage in your job search.

Building a professional network requires meeting and connecting with industry experts, building your social media presence, and earning professional attention and influence. Your mission: find new opportunities through professional contacts, events, and activities that make you more valuable as a potential hire.

Get Proactive

First impressions last. Be sure to have a clear and concise idea of how you want to present yourself in a short amount of time. This can be done in person at a networking event, or even online with a platform like LinkedIn.

When you're breaking the ice, take these tips into consideration:

  • Be Brief: Time reports that a goldfish has a nine-second memory and humans, unfortunately, have an eight-second memory (down from 12 seconds in 2000). If you're in a crowded room and competing for attention, keep your comments short, and patiently listen to their responses. If their eyes glaze over, it's a waste of everyone's time. Disengage.
  • Be Informed: Before an event, get to know a little about some of the key presenters and people involved. Learn to pick out a few faces, and read some of their published writings online. Recognizing faces and being able to speak about someone's work is flattering, and a great way to open a conversation.
  • Be Useful: Keep your topics informative and relevant to your audience. The most respected professionals will have a lot of people who want their attention: you don't want to be just another energy vampire. If the connection is purely online, contribute to their writings with comments, share their work, and be a "good citizen" on their media platforms.
  • Be Memorable: Have an interesting anecdote or story to tell. Experts in Information Architecture know that people tend to remember the high points and the endings of experiences. Make sure your memorable moments count!
  • Be On Top Of Things: Pay attention to every conversation. Keep a few brief notes on the people you spoke with, and something that will help you remember their face. Follow up with any contacts you get with a friendly up e-mail, and connect with them on Twitter or LinkedIn. Remembering names and experiences is powerful -- keep that trick in your back pocket at all times.

Go Where They Are

Full disclosure: Meetup.com is kind of a big deal. At the time of this writing, they've got 245,493 meetup groups holding 601,312 monthly meetups, of which 3.84 million people attend. That's 3,104 meetups happening right now. If you can't find one to network in, you might not be looking hard enough.

BlueSteps advises if you aren’t utilizing local Meetups to your full advantage, then you’re missing out on some excellent opportunities for professional networking and public speaking engagements (potentially, including the presentations you lead). Stephan Spencer of Huffington Business reminds us that the more you give at a meetup, the more you’ll get out of it, in terms of relationship building and opportunities to better your personal brand.

Real-life conversations through meetups can be more powerful for making a good impression than a formal interview: you're having an organic, comfortable conversation, and, just by being at the meetup, you're proving that you're proactive about your career. Bring lots of business cards -- but only give them to people who are likely to use them.

If nothing else, Meetups are a great way to keep yourself up to date with the latest industry news and knowledge, discover new resources and tools, and connect with the people you may want to reach out to later as freelances, vendor services providers, or business partners.

Link Up

Why is LinkedIn so important to your networking? With over 433 million global users, It's the global search engine for finding professionals. It is THE place the hiring managers and recruiters go to find candidates.

Vicki Morris of LinkedIn has stated that, as of 2015, 98% of recruiters and 85% of hiring managers currently use LinkedIn to find job candidates. Joshua Waldman of Social Media for Dummies explains that if you have a strong LinkedIn profile, you’re likely to rank on Google’s first results page when someone searches for your name. This makes a powerful LinkedIn profile the first step to building a strong online brand, and ultimately an extended professional network.

It’s also extremely beneficial to add, In addition, growing your network via LinkedIn boosts your online presence. If someone views your profile and a common, trusted connection exists, you gain credibility. Search Engine Journal makes the point that 94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to vet candidates, and they take notice of people who maintain an updated, engaged LinkedIn presence.

As you share content on LinkedIn, be sure to let people know what you’re accomplishing and blogging about. Update your profile often, and interact with others on LinkedIn regularly. Endorse members in your network for skills whenever you can do so with honesty, and make time to leave thoughtful, well-written endorsements for coworkers and clients whenever you feel they're deserved. On Linkedin, good karma has a way of coming back to you.

Seven Tips For A Killer LinkedIn Photo

A professional LinkedIn photo makes you 14 times more likely to be found, compared to having a blank photo. Follow these seven tips to make yours count:

  • Make sure your face takes up at least 60% of the photo
  • Pick a neutral, non-distracting background
  • Dress professionally - and like professionals in your industry
  • Wear clothing that complements your skin tone
  • Avoid distracting clothing, makeup, and jewelry
  • Keep your expression friendly and approachable
  • Invest in it - cut your hair, shave, and consider investing in a professional photographer

Be in the Loop

As your network starts to grow, it’s important to stay on top of the latest news in your industry. Learning will continue outside of the classroom (or office) and making the effort to be aware of the latest news and advancements in your industry will give you an advantage.

Convenient ways to stay updated are subscribing to podcasts, daily newsletters and blogs, and even interacting with the many live chats hosted on Twitter. For example, #ltechradio is an IT-themed chat that's held every Saturday from 3pm - 4pm EST, or #ExecCareer, where career coaches talk with jobseekers on the third Tuesday of every month from 12pm - 1pm EST.

You can really give off a good, sharp first impression to a new connection when you’re able to hold meaningful conversations on current topics. Lisa Petrilli accomplished author of The Introvert's Guide to Success in Business and Leadership, highlights the need to network with a giving mindset: “Go into each event or conversation with the intention of helping others.” By doing this, you’re showing your willingness to not only share what you know, but signal to others that you care about what’s happening in the industry.

It’s OK to Ask for Help

If you’re building a network from the ground up, it’s okay to take advantage of professional connections you’ve made in the past. Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues for advice on how you can expand your network, and where the opportunities are.

The value of these tips is immeasurable. Referrals are a top source for external hire, accounting for 22.2% of hires, according to the Careers Crossroads 2015 Source of Hire Report. Similarly, an article by Business Insider shows that only one in 100 general applicants may be hired, while an impressive one in 7 referrals can land their opportunity.

There’s a good chance people around you know something you may not, and vice versa. Reaching out will not only help grow your professional network, but will also assist in sharing information with those who are part of your circle. Who knows… one of your coworkers could be going through the same process as you are -- sharing a great referral with them that's not a fit for you could lead to a valuable tip in the future.

Whatever happens, keep projecting a helpful, contributing demeanor, keep teaching yourself, and keep sending good energy out into the universe. Getting hired is a lot of work and can take a long time (an average of 43 days for a low-level job to 76 days for a high-end one, according to Time). Good professional networking gives you all the tools you need to supercharge your search -- the inside scoop, up-to-date information, social endorsements and referrals, unique opportunities, and the right mindset to keep you maximizing your jobseeking potential.

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