3 Ways To Expand Your Professional Network
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3 Ways To Expand Your Professional Network

by Samantha Tollin
Photos Joe Kathrina | November 06, 2014

NETWORKING EVENTS CAN BE INTIMIDATING, BUT THEY'RE ESSENTIAL TO ADVANCING YOUR CAREER. HERE'S HOW TO STEP UP YOUR NETWORKING GAME.

The thought of going up to a stranger and introducing yourself at an event can be extremely overwhelming. Whenever I hear the word “networking” used in conversation, it usually coincides with the phrase, “It’s all about who you know.” Networking can be a very powerful tool to help you expand your personal brand or business. Since graduating from college two years ago, I have learned how to network not only through firsthand experience, but also through people I look up to.

Here are three tips to help you to step up your networking game:

1. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

Volunteering can be more than just an opportunity for you to support a cause you are passionate about. It’s also an amazing networking tool. Think about it—you’re surrounded by a group of people who are interested in the same things you are, whether it’s non-profits, entrepreneurship or even animals. You might as well take the opportunity to develop strong relationships with your fellow volunteers, especially if you are on the hunt for a new job. I’ve found volunteering to be a great venue for me to talk to people who can offer powerful insights in the field of work I am interested in.

Wondering how to find that awesome volunteer opportunity? With some simple research, you can find a variety of volunteering opportunities that match your interest. For example, if you’re into marketing, look up your local marketing chapter or association. If you are into startup companies, look into helping out with startup-related events in your area. If your passion is to help animals, find your area’s humane society or pet shelter.

No matter your area of interest, there will always be ways for you to connect with like-minded people. Be sure to check out Volunteer Match as well, which simplifies the process by connecting you with organizations that match your interests.

2. USE MEETUP TO FIND PEOPLE WITH SIMILAR INTERESTS

If you’ve never used Meetup before, you’ve been missing out! Meetup is an organization that allows you to create your own “meetups” for all types of interests, both professional and personal. Meetup makes it super easy to find a group that’s right for you. You can even sync your Meetup calendar with your personal email calendar so you’ll never have a shortage of events to attend!

3. USE LINKEDIN'S MESSAGING TOOL TO CONNECT WITH INFLUENCERS

As stated in my previous post about this powerful tool, LinkedIn offers a simple solution to connect with people or companies you’re interested in. What I have found useful is to follow companies that inspire you, and send an invitation to the people at those companies who have positions that interest you. Once you’re connected, shoot them an email to set up an informational interview. This allows you to meet them in person and get an inside scoop on the company and their specific role. Who knows—when the next position opens up, you could be the first referral on their list!

When you attend an event on your own or reach out to someone who you’ve never met, it can be a little intimidating at first.

When you attend an event on your own or reach out to someone who you’ve never met, it can be a little intimidating at first. However, just think of all the benefits that come out of connecting with the right people—the people that want to help you. If you don’t hear back from someone, that’s okay! Don’t take it personally.

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Earlier this year, I attended an inspiring presentation by former social media manager for the Walt Disney company, Matt Prince, who said that when it comes to networking, he wants to be the person that pops into someone’s head when asked for a referral—whether it be for a job opening or any other kind of opportunity. With the proper networking skills, you can be that person, too! All it takes is some research and a proactive mindset.