Building Your Professional Network: Tips for Early Career Professionals

May 8, 2023

Group of business people talking at a networking eventBuilding a professional network is essential for growing your career.

Networking can open doors to new opportunities that aren’t otherwise available. It can help you find a mentor and give you insight into industry knowledge that you can’t access through the public media or the internet.

But how do you get started? How do you network in a way that will help you build the relationships that you need over the long term of your career?

That’s a real challenge that most people face. Networking takes time, practice, and a consistent effort. Here are some specific things you can do to build a network that will help you grow your career.

Tips for Building Your Professional Network

Start Early: It's never too early to start building your professional network. If you're still in college, take advantage of networking opportunities such as career fairs, alumni events, and industry associations. Connect with professors, alumni, and professionals in your field of interest to build relationships and learn from their experiences. If you're already in your early career, it's not too late to start. Look for networking events, professional associations, and online communities related to your industry or career path.

Be Yourself: When networking, it's important to be genuine and professional. Show interest in others and be respectful of their time and expertise. Choose to be yourself; this will invite them to be authentic with you in return.

Be Professional: Avoid using networking solely for self-promotion; instead focus on building authentic relationships based on mutual respect and value. In other words, give as well as take. Maintain a professional demeanor and be mindful of your online presence, as potential employers or colleagues are probably checking your social media profiles.

Ask for Advice: Don't be afraid to ask for advice from your network. Ask questions, seek guidance, and show curiosity about others' experiences and insights. People love to share their knowledge and expertise; asking for advice can be a great way to build connections and learn from others. Be open to feedback and be willing to learn from others' perspectives.

Give Back: Giving back is an important aspect of networking. Offer your help, resources, or support to others in your network without expecting anything in return. This could include sharing articles or resources, providing introductions, or volunteering your time and expertise. If you aren’t sure how to help, ask them what you can do for them. Even just an expressed willingness to help can go a long way. By being generous and helpful, you can build a positive reputation and create meaningful long-term connections.

Be Proactive: Building a professional network requires that you be proactive. Seek out networking opportunities, attend events, and connect with professionals in your industry. When you make connections, be proactive in staying in touch with them by scheduling coffee or agreeing to go to the same networking event.

Follow Up: Most people don't do this so this is where you can really stand out. When you meet contacts at networking events or online, follow up within 24 hours. You can really make an impression when you send a personalized thank-you note. At the very least, send a follow-up email. Following up is the thing that most people don’t do, so it’s the perfect way to stand out.

Building relationships takes time and effort. I encourage you to be patient, keep working on it, and plan on sticking with it for the long term.

A professional network is essential for every professional. Whether you're a student, early career professional, or mid-career professional, now is the time to invest in building your professional network. Take action today and watch your network grow and thrive, opening doors to new opportunities and career success.

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