How To Build A Professional Network

Three women sitting on barstools in a modern-style tech office.  Other people's heads, out of focus, are visible in the foreground.  The women on the barstools are giving some kind of panel-based presentation.
Photo by Dani Hart

Building a professional network is a non-negotiable, especially in today’s job market.  A strong network can help you land that first job, find professional development opportunities, and encourage career growth.  But where do you start? How do you build a professional network?! It can be intimidating and a little overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the industry. This article will give you some strategies to help you build a professional network that can help you to advance your career and enrich your professional life.

Set A Goal

What do you want to achieve with your network?  Are you looking for your first job, or for new job opportunities?  Are you seeking mentorship or coaching, or are you simply aiming to expand your circle of industry friends?  Setting some concrete goals for networking will help you determine where to focus your time and energy.

Identify the sort of people you want to connect with–what are their specialities?  Do they have specific experience you’re interested in, or have they worked at specific companies?  Try to narrow down the types of specialties, roles, and communities you want to engage with–it’s tempting to cast a very wide net, but if you go to every single tech-related networking event around and try to connect with everyone there, you’ll end up with loads of acquaintances and very few meaningful connections.  Instead, consider attending conferences, meetups, or user groups dedicated to specific technologies, which often host events tailored to networking with like-minded professionals.

Utilize Social Media & Other Online Platforms

The number one professional networking platform is LinkedIn!  It’s important to keep your LinkedIn profile updated with your skills, accomplishments, and interests, as the site functions as your online expanded resume.  If you’re actively networking, it’s worthwhile to read through LinkedIn posts from your network, and comment on ones that catch your eye–engage the poster and/or other commenters in a conversation, if possible!  You’ll also want to make sure that you are sharing content to the site, whether it’s a post about a project you made, your thoughts on a cool article you found online, or a repost of someone else’s LinkedIn content. The more you interact with others on LinkedIn, the more your profile will appear in others’ post feeds, and you’ll have more opportunity to make connections.

If you’re on other social media platforms, you can also use them to participate in conversations related to tech!  Share relevant tech-related content you’ve found elsewhere, comment on other people’s posts, and try to connect with people who share your technology interests.  Microblogging platforms like X (formerly known as Twitter) are often great places to interact with other folks in the technology industry due to their short-form nature. 

No matter what social media platform you’re on, you need to stay mindful of your online behavior.  Controversial or offensive posts can negatively impact your personal reputation and make others hesitant to connect with you.  If you absolutely must share potentially questionable content, do it on a private profile or under a pseudonym.  Remember, the goal of a professional network is not to build a circle of twenty best friends who all think the same way you do–it’s to build a web of industry acquaintances who can help support you in your career goals, and vice-versa. 

See & Be Seen

One of the best ways to build a professional network is to physically put yourself out there!  Look into attending conferences, workshops, and seminars related to your professional interests, and don’t be afraid to talk to strangers.  Events are excellent opportunities to meet people in person, get to know each other, and exchange ideas.  As a bonus, attending these events shows that you are willing to invest in your career and expand your knowledge, which can help make you an attractive job candidate. 

Local networking events such as mixers and meetups are a more casual way to get to know people in your area and expand your network as well.  You can use sites like Eventbrite and MeetUp to find tech-focused groups in your area.  

You can also offer up your time and knowledge to volunteer with a project you find meaningful.  Not only is this a great way to put yourself out there, but it helps make a positive impact on your community and can introduce you to other people who share your interests.  You can try getting involved in Open-Source Software, coaching high school students through groups like Microsoft TEALs, or participating in a charity hackathon. 

Regardless of what type of event you choose, make sure to present yourself positively and be friendly!  The goal of networking is to build a network, which you can’t do if you spend all your time alone in the corner.  Even if you’re shy and reserved, make it a goal to connect with at least one new person at each event.

Follow Up To Make Genuine Connections

After meeting someone, be sure to follow up on the relationship. Make sure to send a thank-you note after a job interview or a “pleased to meet you” note after making a new connection, and continue with occasional emails or messages to keep the relationship alive.  Any communication should be relevant to your relationship with the person and include a personal, genuine message–don’t schedule a form letter to be sent out to your contacts every six weeks!  Similarly, don’t hound a new connection with tons of messages–it is natural and completely okay for a conversation to die out; you can always start a new one later on if there is something interesting you want to share! 

Networking is about building genuine relationships, not collecting contacts.  Building relationships involves offering value to others, which you can do by sharing your own expertise, offering assistance, and trying to be a knowledge resource for your professinal connctions.  You don’t want to be ‘that person’ who is constantly asking others for favors without ever putting any back in the bank, and folks will know if you don’t take a genuine interest in building a relationship with them. 

In Conclusion…

Building a strong professional network also takes time. Be patient and persistent in your networking efforts, and don’t get discouraged by setbacks or rejections–the more you invest in your professional network, the more you’ll benefit from it throughout your career.  If you’re committed to career growth and making meaningful connections, your network can be the key to unlocking doors you didn’t even know existed!  Remember that networking is a two-way street, and that it isn’t only about what you can gain, but also about what you can contribute to your network.  So, get out there, set your goals, be genuine in your interactions, nurture the relationships you build… and see where your networking journey takes you!

Add a Comment