If you are thinking about finishing your online degree, you may think that you have plenty of time to build your professional network. Put that thought out of your mind, because right now is the best time to start creating a robust and diverse database of contacts who could serve as a steppingstone to your professional development and career advancement. You never know when a connection could prove to be the door to a great job opportunity or influential introduction. So, let’s outline six ways to build your professional network and maintain it for maximum benefit.
Start With Who You Know
Sometimes we miss the obvious. That can be true with your network, too, which is why you should start building your network by making a detailed list of people you already know. First, include current and former managers and colleagues. Reach out and give them a career update, get their contact information, and periodically stay in touch. Be sure to take an interest in their professional lives, as well. As a result, they may think of you when a job opening comes up that you are suited to fill.
Next, add any instructors and fellow students from your university to your list. You will have to work hard to make a good impression on your instructors by excelling in your coursework and communication throughout your degree program. Most online instructors work in the industries for which they teach courses, so they may be able to provide valuable insights or connections when starting your job search. Similarly, as you stay connected to your fellow students and stay abreast of their careers, opportunities could easily present themselves.
Finally, you may need to look at your family and friends in a new light when it comes to networking. Uncle Joe may own his own business or be a CPA; if so, he just became a great professional contact to have. Keep your family and friends apprised of your career goals and ask them to contact you if they have advice or prospects for your career advancement.
Capitalize on Contacts by Association
Your current college or alma mater is a great resource when it comes to networking. Start by joining the school’s alumni association. Then reach out to the staff to ask what alumni live in your area who work in a related field. You might be surprised to get some outstanding contacts. In addition, most alumni associations come with a directory that provides contact information and major. Do some background work, then try sending a few emails to set up a working lunch or phone conversation. Ask about their experience earning a degree, what their professional goals were at the time, and what career path they have followed. Stay in touch and add them to any networking sites you are part of.
In today’s virtual world, it’s a no-brainer to use the power of the internet to bolster your professional network. One of the most versatile online tools is Meetups, which provides professional networking groups for almost every industry. You can join a current group or create your own groups and networking meetups. Meetup fosters real-life connections for members to “meet new people, learn new things, find support, get out of their comfort zones, and pursue their passions.” You can even designate a geographic area for more relevant contacts.
Of course, there is no networking substitute for LinkedIn. Make sure you have developed a robust profile. Connect with the people you know first; then, as you post articles, interact with new members, and develop a consistent presence, you can start adding contacts who may prove important to advancing your career goals.
While LinkedIn is for professional connections, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Parler, and Instagram can help you interact on a more personal level, so you shouldn’t neglect them as a tool in your networking belt. Like and comment on others’ posts, create a group with you classmates or others of like interests, generate posts that appeal to those in your industry, show who you are as a person – you get the idea. Staying current with the people in your network makes it easier to reach out for professional support when you need it.
To stay on the cutting edge of professional growth and be prepared when your networking efforts pay off, use the Career Advancement Blog. It is a robust resource that shares essential tips, tools, and strategies for professional growth and development. Career Advancement Blog includes hundreds of leadership development posts on such topics as strengthening communication skills, getting paid what you’re worth, office politics, being a great boss, and more.
Continue Your Education
Many colleges and universities, as well as chambers of commerce, host networking events, workshops and roundtable events that you can participate in to widen your contact base. In addition to building new skills that employers find attractive, continuing your online education with Ottawa University affords you the opportunity to network with your classmates and instructors. Take the time to get to know the instructor and ask questions. Those questions may lead to your next career!
Continuing your education also help you find a mentor. Mentors prove invaluable, not only for networking but also for professional growth and development. Learning directly from someone who you respect and who has years of real-world experience in your industry can put you leaps and bounds ahead of your colleagues when job hunting or seeking a promotion. You might find a mentor from your alma mater’s alumni pool, your academic advisor, an instructor, or a fellow classmate. Set up regular meetings to get to know him/her and ask industry-related questions; give back by offering your professional assistance; and put into practice what you’re learning and seek feedback.
Put Yourself Out There
An indirect but powerful networking source is volunteerism. By giving your time to an organization that is directly related to your field or that utilizes skills and principles that can be applied broadly, you will put yourself in a position to learn from people who are passionate and knowledgeable while also boosting your resume. There are many opportunities to get involved to assist the Ottawa University Alumni Association with its many programs and events.
While it may be uncomfortable for some, you can put yourself out there even further by researching leaders in your field who work in your area. Then do some old-fashioned cold calling to set up a meeting for a professional “interview.” While you will do some soft selling of yourself towards the end, this is simply a way to get yourself in front of successful leaders that you can learn from. Don’t forget to follow up with an email or thank you card. Who knows where the connection may lead? They may even be impressed by your confidence and initiative.
Continually Cultivate Your Network
It does no good to have a spreadsheet or virtual rolodex full of contacts that you never use. Not only do you need to always be on the lookout for new professional connections, but you also need to intentionally interact with the contacts you already have. You can set up a schedule to make sure you touch base with each person on some level throughout the year, or you can prioritize your list and concentrate on the contacts you feel are most valuable. However you decide to cultivate your network, don’t let it die from neglect. Otherwise, you will miss out on all of the great benefits of professional networking.
Now that you know how to build your professional network, you’ll be able to broaden the scope of your professional contacts and potential career boosters. You can also significantly expand your knowledge base through networking events or meetups, workshops, professional clubs or associations, roundtable events, volunteerism, mentors, and other opportunities we’ve outlined. However, don’t limit yourself to these suggestions. Be creative in your efforts – you may just discover some benefits of professional networking that you weren’t expecting!
As you build your network, you may find that furthering your education is what has been missing from your career advancemetn plan. Contact us today to see how an online education with Ottawa University can give you the tools to move upward in your career!