Professional Development

5 essential tools for building your professional network

5-essential-tools-for-building-your-professional-network

About the Author:
Indu Khosla currently leads the full-stack engineering sector of GoDaddy, focusing on UX, dev-ops, and web application development. She has over ten years of experience in software development working with cross-functional teams.

When I started my career working in tech, I knew that I wanted to find ways to connect professionally with my peers. As an engineer, I was often the only woman on the team and that can get lonely. Additionally, by building connections with professionals across the industry, I felt I could gain insights about other companies and their cultures, which would be useful in finding the right fit for me as I grew in my career and changed jobs.

“Networking” might make you think of uncomfortable conversations in uninspiring meeting halls. It doesn’t have to be that way. These networking events are also especially painful for those who have a tendency to be more introverted. Constructing your network can and should be an energizing experience, and it starts by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Why are you networking?
  • What is your objective or ideal result?
  • Who would you like to ideally meet?

Answers to these questions can help you map out your ideal networking strategy that feels authentic to who you are while strengthening your professional network at the same time.

Learn

Learning, at any stage in your career, will always lead to good results.

Taking courses at a community college, working through a certificate program, or attending professional courses and meet-ups will help you meet people outside of your typical social circles. By default, the people who attend these are also going to be interested in the same topics as you. Shared interests, goals, ambitions, and coursework make it easy to develop natural connections that extend your network. Many companies have “lunch and learn” programs, in-house training or technical guilds. These provide opportunities to connect with peers within the organization that you don’t normally work with. You might find this method of network building especially useful if you’re just starting your career or if you have recently relocated to a new place or a new company.

The takeaway: Avoid impersonal online classes when possible and instead opt for in-person courses where you get to interact with fellow students, instructors and people sharing your interest on a regular, recurring basis.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to build professional relationships while giving back to your community. Finding a volunteer opportunity is not as hard as you might think. Volunteer sites like Taproot.org, for example, connect nonprofits with skilled volunteers who tackle objectives and share their expertise pro bono.

Many companies also offer volunteer opportunities for their employees, closely aligned with the company’s value. For example, my company, GoDaddy, enables its employees to work with entrepreneurs in underserved communities via the Empower by GoDaddy program. These types of volunteer opportunities are perfect for gaining experience to bolster your resume, build a portfolio, and make new contacts in the process. Choosing opportunities that align with your skill-set and interests will make getting started a positive experience and ensure you remain interested.

The takeaway: Volunteer to sharpen new skills, give back to your community, and meet new people in the process.

Publish

Publish content regularly through simple, free channels like blogging platforms and social media to foster online connections.

Developing an online footprint can seem like a daunting task. But it’s easier than you think – I’m working on mine right now, with this article! To develop content and begin making connections online, start small.

Start with one blog. You can even use Twitter threads as a micro-blogging platform. Once you start, set a goal to write and publish one blog post per month. Experiment with topics ranging from industry trends to practical how-to guides, and your perspectives on a common challenge. Take a look at the following prompts to help get you started:

  • What do you wish you could teach yourself when you were first starting your career?
  • What recent industry developments or trends are you talking about with coworkers?
  • Did you recently solve a technical problem for which you had to dig around the internet for a bit? Write the blog post you wish you had found on that topic.
  • Create a Twitter thread with multiple articles on a single topic that interests you, with your brief take on each.

Eventually, as you create more content and interact with others, you’ll hone your voice and find your space within an online network of similarly minded professionals.

That said, Internet trolls and abuse can deter anyone, especially women, from publishing content online. It is best to formulate a strategy for dealing with these negative responses in advance. You can choose to disable comments on your blog, or require approval before being published. My personal policy is to only engage with those who genuinely want a conversation, and I immediately block trolls on Twitter.

The takeaway: Become your own content machine and remember consistent, regular posting is your key to developing online professional connections. Have a plan to deal with internet trolls.

Attend conferences

So, you’ve taken courses, volunteered, and published dozens of articles and blogs. Now what?

Take it on the road. Use your experiences and content to strike up conversations with fellow attendees and speakers at conferences.

There are hundreds of conferences out there ranging from one-day niche summits to week-long industry-wide trade shows, so it’s important to find the conference that best aligns with your networking objectives. Looking to generate leads for a new business? Try a trade show. Looking for new opportunities? Try a seminar. Looking for a conference on a grand scale? Try SXSW or The Grace Hopper Celebration.

Conferences range in a wide variety of variables from size, expense, and duration to location, and industry verticals. Before you buy your tickets, try researching potential conferences and identify a few that interest you by asking fellow coworkers or posing the question to your LinkedIn connections.

As you gather answers and ideas, assemble your conference list and weigh the pros and cons, alongside the networking potential of each event. For example, large conferences like CES or SXSW might be fun, but given the size and expense, large-scale, industry-wide conferences like these might be difficult for creating meaningful connections. Smaller conferences on the other hand, or even seminars, summits, and trade shows, offer more intimate settings, making it easier to meet and connect. Seminars are perfect for those looking to learn about new opportunities.

The takeaway: Do some research to find the best conference that matches your networking objectives and resources. Start in your local area and branch out from there.

Do interesting work

Why not leverage your job, where you spend the majority of your day, as a networking tool. Working on cross-team projects is a great way to build connections within your workplace. Keep an eye out for such projects, and ask to be on the team. Some of the most meaningful connections I have built were via working side-by-side for an extended period on an impactful project.

The takeaway: Step outside your box, and look for work roles that both expand your skillset and network.

Socialize

This one is simple but so important for your professional and personal growth.

By doing things that you enjoy, you’ll naturally meet people and create genuine organic connections. Relationships built through mutual hobbies and extracurricular interests outside of work can become the strongest, longest-lasting connections in your network. While you might not share direct professional goals or experience, by fostering a connection you have the opportunity to meet even more people and expand your network exponentially.

The takeaway: Go have fun and build your network in the process. It’s really that simple.

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