“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The right connections can open doors to opportunities and help you grow in your career. Networking today is as strong a skill as any professional degree since it directly impacts your progress. An ambitious person needs to focus on establishing a strong professional network and work towards widening and strengthening it.If you have spent over five years on the job, you’ve probably already come in contact with several important people. But have you been able to leverage this to grow professionally? Here’s where you can start: 1. Make a list of people you knowYou’re probably better networked than you realize already. Write down the names of all the people you know professionally, starting from your college alumnus, companies you interned with and those you met at your former and current workplaces. As and when you meet new people at networking events or through work, add them to your list. That way, you have a database of people to connect with on an ongoing basis. 2. Get noticedBy building a reputation for being someone who is helpful, skillful and a valuable resource, people will automatically want to connect with you. Be sure to keep in touch with professional contacts via email, social media or face-to-face meetings. Visibility is important, as whenever an opportunity for work comes up, you’ll be top of mind. 3. Connect, then follow upIf you want to make an impact, you have to follow up with every contact you make. If you exchange business cards with someone, for instance, send them an email letting them know that meeting them was a pleasure. The email can also mention your areas of expertise and offer of help, if and when required.4. Participate in networking events Every industry organizes trade shows and conferences that provide great networking opportunities. Groups that organize get-togethers for members from the same industry are also ideal venues to make contacts. Online too, there are plenty of opportunities to expand your network. You can join global professional groups or dialogue with industry leaders on Twitter, for example. Be sure to attend the annual office party. It’s a great opportunity to network with your seniors. [Link to Article 9-December-How to impress and have fun: networking tips for the office party]5. Don’t just show up for a meeting. Have a planBefore attending any networking event, take some time to think about what kind of connections you want to make. Are you looking for a mentor? New job? Or do you just want to plug into your industry buzz? If it’s one or all of the above, ascertain what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you are looking for to accomplish your goals. Map out possible discussions and how you will position yourself in these interactions.6. Become a connectorThese interactions aren’t always about how you can get ahead. They are also an opportunity for you to share your expertise with others. Become a connector – introducing two people you know for professional reasons. If you help people in your network grow, they may be in a better position to help you in the future.
7. Listen. And askEveryone appreciates a good listener. It’s a quality that will always work to your advantage. If you learn about peoples’ beliefs and challenges, you’ll get to know them better which in turn will help you establish a stronger professional relationship with them. But good networking is also about asking. Never hesitate to reach out for help, whether it’s an introduction or advice. It may feel awkward initially, especially for someone who hasn’t done it before. Start small to gain confidence. Be polite and never come across as pushy.