What is networking? The basic definition, in a professional context, explains networking as any interaction that connects you with others.  It is the most important tool in your professional toolbox, and developing connections has the best return on investment of any career-related activity. Despite that, many people resist networking because they feel uncomfortable asking people for help. To combat this discomfort, the best strategy is to develop your network before you need it:

Networking is not something you do when you need a new job or promotion or new client. It is not something you can buy, beg, borrow, or steal when you need it. It must be part of your life and activities as an ambitious, success-oriented young person. You can’t build strong relationships overnight.
~Lindsey Pollak, Getting From College To Career

There are three key parts of networking:

1.  Making connections: You can network anywhere and there are opportunities at every turn to meet people who might be helpful for your career. There are many ways to find these people, such as attending events on campus where alumni are present (ASK Night, Career Fair, etcetera) or using tools like LinkedIn and other social networking sites.

2. Building relationships: The next step in networking is to deepen a relationship by connecting with professionals in person on a one-on-one level. Informational interviews are an excellent way to accomplish this goal.

3. Maintaining relationships: Take this beyond merely sending a thank you card after an informational interview, but also work on maintaining that connection over time. This is where the give and take of the relationship comes in, and is what will transform someone from a casual acquaintance to someone who is a reliable part of your network.

Watch for future posts where we’ll break down each part of networking into easy steps.

© 2009 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound