Written by Kate Kaeli.
The way people search for jobs, explore a career change, and build a business has evolved but one thing has remained the same: it’s who you know (or who knows who). Networking has become a key driver for success. But networking isn’t a one size fits all solution – depending on your goals, you’ll want to make sure you are active in the right group(s). Joining a professional association can really pay off when you are trying to expand your connections.
Associations tend to offer a variety of options to help members achieve networking goals at almost every career level.
- Want to build strong contact networks? Look for groups that meet often with the sole purpose of building professional relationships. Associations with lead sharing groups, discussion forums and mentoring programs are a good place to start.
- Hoping to gain or share industry knowledge? Organizations that offer consistent programming, topical symposia and conferences that include opportunities for continuing education are excellent options.
- Pressed for time? Online networking is the new standard for any organized group. Be a participant! Share articles (authored or sourced), update your profile frequently, add relevant comments to other posts and look for ways to offer encouragement to other members through their posts, updates and requests for help.
- Need to have a little fun? Nowadays it’s common for associations to offer low-key events at a restaurant, brewery or sports venue. These alternative events are great for getting to know people in a more casual setting. Sometimes taking people out of their “element” is all that’s needed to begin new conversations.
So you have found an event that suits your needs, what now? Start by seeing who else is registered. From there you can create a target list of people to connect with. You may also find people you already know, which can ease anxiety. Work on an “elevator pitch” that aligns with your objectives. When crafting, be clear and concise. Include an easy to understand description of what you do – leave out the jargon! You may want to provide some accomplishments, and don’t forget to share why you are there. Are you looking for business connections, hoping to expand career opportunities, searching for a mentor? Let your intentions be known. People genuinely want to help, especially when they know the end goal.
Effective networking is an ongoing process. Be sure to allow time in your schedule to follow up with your new connections. Your network requires maintenance. Use your free moments to write or call someone. Keep diversity in mind as you continue to grow your network. Identify “connectors” – people who can put you in touch with others who you never would have met otherwise. You never know where a new connection will lead! Return favors, how can you help your contacts? Remember to give back when you see opportunities.
Active participation in professional associations allows you to benefit by learning from the experiences of others, continue your education through participation in seminars or workshops, and keep abreast of developments or trends in your industry. It allows you to meet new people, learn of new opportunities and grow and learn about yourself.
Remember that a little bit of preparation is worth the effort. Give some thought to your objectives and how to achieve them. Investigate your industry’s associations, chances are you’ll find what you are looking for.
One last networking event “do” — remember to smile. It’s a simple way to get conversations going, and instantly warms other people because they’ll smile back at you.