Job seekers are often told that who you know is important when trying to land a job. And while that saying is true, who you know—AKA your professional network—can do much more than help you find a job. Your network can also help you with many aspects of personal and professional development.
Building a professional network can seem like a tough task. Who should you approach?
Well, the fact is, you should include all kinds of people in your network. People from your past and present, as well as colleagues and people outside of your profession, are all great ideas. Adding all of them to your professional network is important, because you never know who can help you (and who you can help) in your professional journey.
What Types of Networks Are There?
In nearly every career field, there are three types of networks professionals can create and use. Within these three networks, you’ll have different kinds of connections. Some people will be in multiple networks, but most will only be in one.
Your operational network consists of the people within your company who you’ve built relationships with to help you accomplish your tasks. An example would be the marketing department coordinating messaging with the social media team to make sure everyone stays on brand.
In some respects, this network of people is similar to an operational network in that it consists of people who can help you get the job done. However, in your strategic network, you can include people outside of your control to help you accomplish your tasks. For example, if you work for a nonprofit and you’re throwing a fundraiser, your strategic network might include the entertainment, the caterers, and the people who donate the auction prizes.
Your personal network consists of your personal connections and includes people mostly outside of your company, although it can include coworkers. Generally, your personal network helps you with your personal development, like finding a mentor, helping you locate clients, or, of course, pointing you toward open positions.
Who Should You Include In Your Network?
No matter what kind of professional network you’re building and maintaining, ultimately, your network is only as good as the people you connect with. Often, though, people interpret that as just including those who are in the same field or who can help them find a job.
However, when you build a professional network it’s important to include a variety of people to keep your options open. It can be hard to know where to start, so here are 10 types of connections you can add to your professional network.
1. School Contacts
Happily employed graduates reflect well on a school, so your alma mater will try to help you however it can. Start by staying in touch with the career office, which can alert you to job postings it receives and area hiring events. Keep professors and other mentors with whom you’ve closely worked updated on your goals so they can keep their eyes open for leads in your industry.
And become an active alum. The fellow Tiger you chat with at the Homecoming picnic may be delighted to “pay it forward” with an introduction or an informational interview.
2. Past Supervisors
In many cases, once you’ve been promoted or moved on to a new opportunity, your old boss is happy to become a part of your network. And, as your former supervisor, they can be a valuable source of recommendations and references should you need them.
For younger professionals, a “real job” may not be on your resume yet. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t include a former supervisor in your professional network. Even if no openings exist at the place where you worked, these leaders may know of other opportunities and be proud to vouch for your abilities.
3. Current and Former Colleagues
Coworkers past and present make great additions to your professional network. While they may not have a “supervisor’s view” of your abilities, sometimes potential employers would rather hear from a coworker, not a supervisor.
And though you may not be able to help each other out in the present (especially if you both work at the same company), that doesn’t mean you can’t help each other in the future. Once one of you has moved on to new opportunities, a whole new world of possibilities might open up for you.
Make sure, though, that you aren’t only adding people in your department or area of expertise. If, for example, you work in the marketing department, it’s a great idea to include your marketing coworkers in your network.
But, you can also expand your network to include human resources, the legal department, and the accounting department. These people likely have an entirely different view of the company and can help you build your operational and strategic networks. You never know who they may know, and their network could bring new opportunities your way.
It may seem cheesy or even tacky, but don’t overlook including your friends in your network. Obviously, you don’t want every get together to turn into a networking event. It’s important to have a division between your work and personal life, but your friends can sometimes be the best part of your professional network.
For example, you and your friends may work in entirely different fields or roles, but all of you have to navigate workplace relationships. Consulting with your friends as part of your personal network could help you solve problems in ways you never considered before.
5. Old Friends
Your college roommates, old high school pals, summer camp buddies, and traveling baseball squad teammates are all great additions to your personal network, too.
See if you can help out one another by passing along leads or offering introductions. Many companies conduct employee-referral programs that offer a bonus when someone you recommend gets hired—a win-win for both of you.
6. Virtual Acquaintances
Online communities tear down boundaries and enable connections previous generations could never have imagined. Look for relevant groups, blogs, and forums that “speak” to you—ones that you’re excited to follow and contribute to regularly.
You’ll make a name for yourself, and other members may be in positions to help with your career aspirations. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete and up to date so that people trying to connect with you have the appropriate information.
7. Clients and Customers
Clients and customers can be an especially helpful and useful group to add to your professional network. If you’re a freelancer, past clients and customers can attest to how well you did your job when you worked for them. These testimonials can then help you land future clients and customers. As an employee, this group can connect you to job openings by either helping you find job postings through their network or connecting you with open positions at their company.
8. Professional Associations
Professional associations connect you with people in your field who you might not otherwise have a chance to meet. You’ve got a common bond through your profession, so finding commonalities should be easy.
These connections can also help you learn more about your field as a whole. Instead of just a view of your company, you can see how other organizations are tackling similar obstacles or planning for the future.
9. Non-Professional Organizations
All work and no play is no fun at all. You’ve got hobbies and interests outside of work. And, depending on those interests, you might be part of a non-professional group or club, or perhaps you’re volunteering. Consider adding the people you meet during those activities to your personal networks.
While you can connect on one level with a common interest, you never know how else you might connect, too. It may turn out that you’re in the same field, or that someone used to be in one field, but career-changed into the field you want to go into. You never know until you ask!
10. Someone You Can Help
Building your professional network shouldn’t include only the people who can help you. Consider adding people to your network who you can help as well. Whether it’s advice, connections, or job leads, paying it forward is always a great plan. What goes around, comes around and the person you help today may be able to help you tomorrow!
Build Your Professional Network
Building and maintaining your professional network can help you advance your career and connect with others who share similar professional (and personal) interests. Even if you never leverage your network for a new job, you’ll still have a vast network of people who can share information, advice, and encouragement during your professional journey.
To learn about how FlexJobs can help you on your journey, take the tour and discover what a membership can do for you and your job search.
Don’t forget to share this article with friends!