Building and Maintaining Your Professional Network

When it comes to building our professional network, we often wonder on whom to add and connect with. Yet, the answer is to add anyone we meet to give us a diverse network. Today, we converse with people face-to-face, over the phone, through email and the internet. With the rise of social networking sites, our ability to build a network is endless.

Jan Gabel-Goes, Western Michigan University instructor, and Geralyn Heystek, Career Development Specialist for the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University, provide college students and recent graduates with tips to successfully build a professional network. However, anyone can take advantage of the tips.

When you begin networking, you first want to step back and look at who’s already in your network. Ask yourself, “Who do I know?”, “Where do I get advice?” and “Who do I give advice to?” Write out the names of everyone you can think of – you want to have a vast, established network before you need it. Your established network may not only help you find employment, but other options as well, including new business opportunities.

Individuals you include in your established network can include anyone you meet, however Jan and Geralyn suggest its best to start with those you know. Classmates, alumni, recent grads, parents, neighbors, professors, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, professional organization members and coworkers (current and former) should all be included in your network.

As you establish your network, Jan and Geralyn suggest using the hot, warm and cold contact model to help give you a head start. Hot contacts are those individuals you already know, providing an easy way to start. Warm contacts are people you know through a friend, but are more of an acquaintance. Lastly, cold contacts are those you have no established relationship with, but know who they are, what they do and have their contact information. These contacts are the hardest to get a hold of.

One way to help turn a cold contact to a warm and a warm to a hot is to name drop. This bridging tool allows you to reach out, be upfront with the person you’re trying to contact and be honest with them. Additionally, it creates a conversation starter to help break the ice.

In 2010, Forbes shared an article for individuals looking to build a professional network. The article offered tips similar to Jan and Geralyn’s hot, warm and cold and shares the type of people who should be in your network. Instead of offering 3 types of people to include in your network, Forbes breaks it down to a list of 10:

The Mentor: This is the person you want to reach their level and learn from their success.

The Coach: This person helps us with critical decisions and is there to offer suggestions with no strings attached.

The Industry Leader: This person is who we look to for what’s currently happening in the industry and the next big thing.

The Trendsetter: This person is outside of your industry, but has the latest buzz.

The Connector: This person has access to a variety of individuals, resources and information. They send you information they come across related to your industry.

The Idealist: This person is your go to brainstorm partner – no matter how out there the idea is they help you think of ways to make it happen.

The Realist: Opposite of the idealist, this person puts things into a real perspective and challenges you to make your dream happen.

The Visionary: This is the person who inspires you and changes the way you think about a topic – leading to more creative ways to look at the item.

The Partners: This person is at a similar place in life and on a similar path as you.

The Wanna-be: This is the person who looks to you for advice as their mentor.

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