Just the Job: How to build your professional network straight out of college
Q: I’m just out of college and I know I need to build my professional network. By nature, I am friendly and chatty, and got on well in several clubs in college. I served as chairperson of one club for two years and got to know a lot of people in the college and in other colleges. I am just wondering if I need to adopt a different approach to help me in the world of work. I’d like to do this online but also offline or face-to-face – I think the latter suits my personality type better. All tips would be welcome? (JK, email).
A: You’ve made a great start. As time goes on, you’ll notice how the contacts you have already developed will stand to you in the years ahead. Ireland is a small country: people turn up again and again. Nowadays, it’s easy to neglect the physical act of meeting people face to face, and I’m glad that you are prioritising that approach as a central element of building your contact base.
Here are ten tips on how you can build a strong professional network, both online and offline:
1. Attend industry events and conferences: they a great way to meet and connect with other professionals in your field. These events often provide opportunities to attend networking sessions and workshops that will help you make new connections.
2. Join professional associations: get access to a network of like-minded professionals in your field. Look for local and national associations that accord with your interests and career goals.
3. Utilise LinkedIn: used properly, it’s a powerful tool for building your professional network. Connect with colleagues, industry leaders, and others in your field. Be sure to keep your profile up-to-date and engage with others by sharing relevant content and participating in group discussions.
4. Volunteer in your community: meet new people while also giving back to your community. Take it a step further by looking for opportunities to volunteer for events and causes related to your industry. But don’t expect immediate pay-offs – and only volunteer because you will actually enjoy what you’re doing. People will spot a strategic volunteer – one who is only watching for their chance to capitalise – a mile off.
5. Attend alumni events: you'll meet people who have similar backgrounds and experiences and may be able to help you in your career.
6. Attend local business events: check out your local chamber of commerce or other business organisations to find networking events in your area. These often attract a variety of professionals, from entrepreneurs to corporate executives.
7. Be proactive: don't just wait for others to approach you. Take the initiative to introduce yourself to others and strike up conversations. Ask questions about their work, their interests, and their goals. And listen to their answers.
8. Follow up: after meeting someone new, follow up with them via email or LinkedIn. Remind them of where you met and suggest a follow-up meeting or call to continue the conversation.
9. Be yourself: or as the saying goes, ‘be yourself – everyone else is taken’. People are more likely to connect with you if you're genuine and authentic. Don't be afraid to share your personality and interests along with your professional goals.
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