Follow these tips to start networking effectively to develop your career further or secure a new role or contract.

1. Networking means purposeful, reciprocal relationship building.
Many of us get put off by the term “networking”. We naturally reach out to others that we know to ask for their help with things like identifying a good electrician, or looking for restaurant recommendations. We’re doing the same thing but now looking for help and advice about career or job search related things.

2. People want to help.
In my experience people that you know will be very happy to help when you ask them. They are flattered that you value their advice. Most people enjoy the opportunity to talk about themselves so will be delighted to tell you what they job, company or sector is like.

3. Start with those people you know best.
Don’t start networking thinking you have to go to lots of events where you don’t know people and you’ll feel awkward standing there on your own. Instead create a list – even a simple Excel spreadsheet – of your Top 20 Allies. These are the people who think best of you, with whom you have the strongest reputation. They are likely to be drawn from your professional life but think too about key people from your education, social circle and local community.

4. Be purposeful and make bite-size requests.
It helps to be clear about why you are getting in touch with someone. Use some humour to rebuild bridges if you’ve not been in touch for a number of years, “how time flies..”! Reflect before you contact someone like a former boss about how they might be able to help you. Always ask for advice and information and never for something huge like a job. Be specific about your requests – ask for feedback on your CV or future professional plans, the name of a recruitment agent, information about your target sector, function or role. Don’t just ask people to “keep their eyes and ears open” for you. It’s too general.

5. Be prepared, positive and professional.
If you have arranged to meet up with a contact, such as a former supplier or client, prepare for your meeting in a professional way, even if it is just billed as a “chat”. Make sure you’re up to date with their LinkedIn profile and Company Page. Think about what you want to walk away with at the end of the meeting. Prepare four or five questions to show your initiative and interest in them. What’s a typical day like? What do you like / dislike about your job, function, sector or organisation? What are the current trends in your sector? What key skills are they seeking? Prepare your answer to their question “Tell me about yourself. Where are you up to?”

6. Reciprocate
Good relationship building shouldn’t be all one way. Thank the contact you’ve been in touch with and always offer help in return by saying something like “If there’s anything I can do to help you in future, do let me know.” Make it a habit to share information with others. Stop and think about other people’s needs. If someone mentions in a conversation that they need help in a particular area, reflect afterwards if you have a connection you could put them in touch with. Help others to solve their problems.

7. Networking is like gardening. Your professional relationships need to be nurtured regularly.
You have your focused list of Top 20 professional contacts. Next you have reached out to them and rebuilt bridges together. You’ve asked them for a specific bite-size bit of help and you’ve shared your knowledge, contacts or research in return. Now you need to keep in touch. Aim at a very minimum to reach out twice a year. Once at Christmas and then a follow up in the summer time. With some relationships if you are actively job seeking, you might be in touch more often for a period of time, with stepping stone meetings and conversations as you move forward with your search.

8. Building professional relationships can be energising and build your confidence.
Job search can sometimes be a lonely activity. Catching up with people you have known in a previous work situation can therefore inspire and energise you. It helps to talk out loud and share concerns and future plans. Others are likely to reconnect you with your strengths and your achievements.

Get in touch with me if you would like more help with this aspect of career management and job search.