Networking with career advancement in mind requires some planning and focus. The key to successful networking is to market yourself using resources available to you and uncover job opportunities that may otherwise be hidden.  Look at your network as a living and breathing organism that needs food and nurturing to allow it to flourish.

Your network should include anyone who can assist you with a job search or career move. It may include ex-bosses and ex-colleagues, current co-workers, HR managers in other companies and even recruiters. The best sustainable relationships involve considerable up-front investment and patience.

So where to start?

  1. Who do you know?

Your best resource is the people you know already. Make a list of people that you feel can assist you in your career search, contact them informally and let them know you are in the market for a change. Let them know what type of role you are looking for and if they ask for your CV, that’s fine too.

Don’t be shy to ask them who else they know that could help you.  Remember the 6 degrees of separation?   It has been said that there is only three degrees of separation between people in procurement. The greatest value of your network for career advancement may be in the second degree, the contacts of your contacts.

  1. Get focused

While 1 above is in progress, compile a list of specialist recruiters or HR professionals in the companies that you have identified as targets.  Pick only the recruiters that have expertise in your niche, generalists may waste your time.  Make sure your CV and contact details are up-to-date, sounds obvious but often overlooked.  Contact the identified person directly and ask them for information and advice about working for their company or for their clients. Where you make good contacts, follow up regularly and be persistent.

  1. Keep tracking your network

Keep a journal of your networking activity.  Who did you contact, when and what transpired? Schedule the next actions and continue to follow up. This is what all the best salespeople do.  When people change their job their address and other details change. When they move, drop them a note to wish them well and find out what they are up to. Their new opportunity could lead to a new opportunity for you.

  1. Be a resource

Help others with sharing your contacts, experience and knowledge before helping yourself. Many people fail at networking because it’s obvious they are just a one way street. You get back what you give, it’s called pay it forward.

If you expect to leverage people in your network, you have to be prepared for people to use you too. If people consider you to be a good resource, they will invariably return the favour. If you become aware of an opportunity or an event, send it on to the appropriate people in your network.

  1. Listen carefully

Take time to find out about the person you’re talking to before showcasing your own achievements. Standing and speaking in a similar way to your colleagues – i.e. ‘matching and mirroring’ their body movements and tone of voice – is an excellent way to relax people, which helps to build rapport and establish areas of common interest.  Be interested: turn the conversation back to the other person. People love to talk about themselves!  If the conversation has reached its natural end, move on, respectfully.

  1. Networking at events

Conferences, industry events and trade shows offer great opportunities to network with people from other companies in your industry or your area of functional expertise. You can tap into an organization through the delegates even if they are not from the area you are interested in, they can open the door to a more relevant contact, maybe a senior executive or HR manager.  As they say, just work the room.

  1. Be on-line, but selectively

Any information you provide online about your job background and accomplishments should be consistent across social media.  Don’t assume a prospective employer or recruiter will only be checking you out on LinkedIn. You can be rejected outright before you get asked for your CV if you are seen to be unprofessional in any way such as misrepresenting your achievements or qualifications. Any inability to communicate clearly in writing will also lose you opportunities. When networking on-line, make sure that you know what you want and be specific in any request to your contacts.

Remember, it’s not all about you!  And keep track of your network.

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