How to build a professional network

Woman on computerNetworking is about developing relationships that could be helpful to you in your job search and your career.

You’ve no doubt heard the truism that most job openings are filled by networking, and may feel frustrated and left out. But building a professional network is achievable for almost everyone, by following these steps to identify your network and develop it.

Who is in your network already?

Most people start to build their professional network beginning with those closest to them, and moving outward to circles of people they may have less connection with. To start your network, write up a list of the following:

  • Family, neighbors, friends, and members of community groups you belong to, like sports teams, people you get together with for activities, religious congregation, or others.
  • Current or former classmates, teachers, professors, and other school personnel you have a relationship with.
  • Contacts from past jobs, such as former supervisors, coworkers, and managers.

You will find that people differ on their comfort level with sharing contacts, but keep in mind that your network could also include connections with all of your network’s contacts.

Move outward from your inner circle

The next level of your professional network moves outside the ring of people you’ve had direct contact with.  These are people you share something in common with—a common contact, a professional association membership, an educational institution—but you haven’t necessarily ever met them.

  • Professional association members. Joining a business or professional association is one of the best ways to learn about trends and unadvertised jobs. Many members are eager to help job seekers and often know employers with open positions. Some offer professional events, and many offer trade meetings and conferences. You can attend these or even volunteer at them to meet members, learn about the industry or profession, and gain contact information.
  • Online networking websites such as LinkedIn, and networking sites set up by people in the field. These can connect you with potential jobs, colleagues, and business opportunities.
  • College career services or alumni offices. If you attended college, contact your college alumni and career services offices. Alumni may be willing to do informational interviews with graduates of their institution. Career services may have online job boards or other resources to help you.

Generate targeted connections with people in your field

The third level of building your professional network may be intimidating, but it offers great potential to learn about your field and generate job opportunities.

  • Consider volunteering for an organization or event to build skills in your field and make connections.
  • Research journals and publications about your field and write to authors of articles and blogs that interest you.
  • Attend job fairs and other networking events in your field and bring business cards, resumes, and a clear message about your qualifications and where you want to head.
  • Find information about nearly 12 million organizations in the U.S. on CareerOneStop’s Business Finder. Many entries include a key contact person, phone number and address, so you can reach out to them directly.

How to use these contacts

An important first step is to organize information about your contacts in a way that is meaningful to you. Then track your ongoing communication with them. Some people use a spreadsheet, e-mail system, notebook, or reminder file. Reflecting on your priorities at the time you start networking, you might want to reach out to your network to:

  • Research your industry and companies that interest you or influence the industry.
  • Request informational interviews with people who work in your field or company of interest to learn “boots on the ground” information you can’t get from other research
  • Request connections to contacts in specific organizations you want to work for or to ask about job openings.
  • Recognize that your social media accounts provide companies / contacts information about you, in addition to opportunities to learn about them
  • Build relationships with professional contacts for mutual support / connections throughout your career.

Learn more about networking on CareerOneStop.


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