When I attended sorority recruitment during my sophomore year of college, I thought my sorority life would extend through my college career and that would be it. I’d make friends and be involved in fun activities, then graduate and leave my sorority behind when I left campus. When you join a sorority, the advisors will all tell you that it is “so much more,” that the collegiate experience and that membership is for a lifetime. Like many of my friends I smiled and nodded thinking, “Okay… sure.”
As I mentioned in my last post, “3 Things (Besides a Degree) You Get from College,” the network I built in college, including my sorority network, has helped me in ways I never imagined, and not just in a professional sense. I have several networks, each of which help with something different. I have a moms network I can call on if I’m late picking up my daughter. I have a professional network that I can call on if I have questions about work. Everyone from your child’s Scout leader to the other parents at back-to-school night to the person next to you on the train could become a valuable link in your network. The women at your sorority alumnae chapter may be able to help recent grads find a job or internship in your desired field. They may also be able to give you interview tips or model interview questions to help you prepare. You never know who will be able to give you advice, help out with an event that you’re planning, or introduce you to a great opportunity for a job.
A recent study shows that 85% of all jobs are filled via networking, so if you are job-seeking, your network is even more crucial. Even if you’re not job-hunting, a good network can help in other ways.
Here are three ways to get the most of your network:
Keep in Touch
This seems obvious, but your network is only as good as your last contact with it. The more people know about you, the more connected they will feel. When you are job hunting or even looking for a reference, it’s hard to approach people you haven’t spoken to recently because no one wants to be approached for a favor by someone who hasn’t bothered to keep in touch. Keeping in touch is not just about you! Show interest in what is going on with the people in your network. Did your old boss get a promotion? Has a previous employee started her own business? Has a former colleague recently gotten married or started a family? Is there something interesting going on in your mutual field or has a mutual interest recently been in the news? Keep abreast of things that your network is posting on social media and comment or like their posts. Something as simple as an email or a direct message via Twitter or LinkedIn can be used as a quick check-in. You should be using all of your social networking prowess to touch base periodically with your network.
To keep a healthy network it is very important to ensure that you add value to your friends’ networks. Do you connect people you know who share similar interests? If you hear of a job opening, do you think of friends who may be a good fit? When your friends are job hunting, do you think of everybody you know in similar fields that may have openings or leads? Think of ways you can help people in your network. It could be simply making an introduction. I had a friend who was very interested in real estate and was trying to decide if she wanted to make a career change. Another friend has been a realtor for years and helped me buy and sell my condo. I asked my realtor friend if she’d be willing to speak with my curious friend to answer questions. She, being a very good networker herself, said yes, so I made the introduction. This is another an example of how your network may not work the way you think it will, but if you make it known you are there to help, people will be more likely to help you when you are in need.
I mean this literally – one of the best ways to get the most out of and grow your network is to show up! Join local alumni groups for your sorority, university or previous company. Join the groups that interest you on social media. Both LinkedIn and Facebook have great groups for all different interests. DC Web Women was one such group I joined when I first became involved in the technology field. It introduced me to other women in my area who were able to answer questions on topics ranging from what is the best programming language to learn to be competitive to what was the best neighborhood for my budget and commute? Most of these groups host happy hours or other networking events. Go to as many of these events as you can! They are great ways to expand your network by getting to know new people. Each new person you meet can expand your own network. Show up at these events with lots of business cards, a friendly demeanor and a willingness to get to know people. This will be the fastest way to grow your network, which – I hope I’ve convinced you – has benefits that go beyond just finding a job.