Knowing how to build a network is an essential skill for any college graduate. There is a process for developing a network that has proven to be successful. Generally the process of building a network consists of four phases.
- Phase 1 (Outreach) – engaging in activities where you can interact with others beyond your own close circle of friends
- Phase 2 (Connecting) – building personal relationships with those you meet
- Phase 3 (Supporting) – developing ways to provide beneficial and mutual support for those in your network
- Phase 4 (Sustaining) – keeping those in your network up to date with what you are doing
Some specific activities you need to do during the outreach phase include:
- Attend career fairs, presentations, receptions, and other campus events where you will meet people who could be valuable network members.
- Connect with faculty in your academic program who can give you network leads.
- Identify network possibilities through your family and friends, social organizations you belong to, your church, and other people who you already know.
Some specific activities you can do to connect with others include:
- Do “interviews” with those you meet. These interviews are not as formal as we typically think of interviews, but informal discussions to get to know others. Develop written summaries of your interviews and put these into a data base.
- Share your personal story with those you meet. The story could include: your personal background, your aspirations, and your values.
Some specific activities that you can do to initiate the support activities include:
- Ask for advice. When you do get advice, respond to it and let the person know how valuable it was to you. The key to developing a network is letting your network members know how much you value their advice.
- Ask your network members if you can help them. You will be surprised by the insight you have as a young adult that can be of benefit to others.
- Ask for recommendations, leads to internship/job opportunities, and connections to others who could help you in your career.
Whatever you do in the support phase, be sure to provide a genuine thank you and feedback. Outlined below is an example of what a thank you and feedback might look like.
The final phase of sustaining activities can include some of the following:
- Provide regular updates on your progress in college. For example, if you have received financial or career guidance from someone, you should let the person know how much the support has meant to you and how you are paying back the “investment”.
- If you see something a network member may be interested in send a note. This is a very low time consuming activity that can return huge benefits.
- Use social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook to update your network members. See the topic: Using Social Media to Sustain Your Network.
- Develop a formal data base of your network that contains names, contact information, and biographical information. This data base should be regularly updated and scanned to see if there are opportunities that need to be pursued.
Building a network requires an investment, but it’s an investment that will have huge dividends in the future. Think of your network as a capital asset like a home or a car that is essential for a good life..