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The steps of building a strong network

photodune-3481243-social-network-xs“You should network” is advice as commonly repeated as “You need to floss,” and it’s just as irritating if you’re out of practice. However, just like going to the dentist, you’ll likely feel much better after you’ve seen the benefits of keeping up with the routine.

So, when it comes to networking, where do you start? As it turns out, with people you already know. You may not consider the people in your life professional references, but networking is about continuing old and establishing new relationships. Read on to learn more about growing your network and getting the most out of your connections.

Start with who you have
Friends, family and acquaintances all have potential resources who can help in your job search. The key is to start exploring your connections. “Start anywhere: family, friends, neighbors,” says Alfred Poor, a career success speaker and author of “7 Success Secrets That Every College Student Needs to Know!” “You have no idea where it could lead.”

Laurie Berenson, certified master résumé writer and president of Sterling Career Concepts LLC, echoes his point, saying, “Job seekers should look to their first ring of friends and family when beginning to network and then branch out from there. A good question to ask someone to gather additional names is, ‘Who do you know who does [insert job function]?’ or ‘Who do you know in the [insert field]?'”

Know what you do and don’t want
Your network can only give you as much assistance as you ask for — and it helps to be specific. “When you’re ready to start your job search, tell everyone what you’re looking for,” Poor says. “You have to be detailed in what you want, because if you say you’ll take anything, you’ll get nothing. That’s like walking into a crowded room and announcing, ‘I need a date. I’ll go out with anyone. Who wants to go out with me?’ Instead, you need to be able to give a quick elevator pitch that describes the kind of opportunity you seek … Make it easy for people to understand what you want — and what you don’t want — and easy for them to repeat it to someone else. Then tell everyone you know.”

How you go about tapping your network is just as important as what you say. “To let your network know what kind of job you want, brief emails are good or messages through LinkedIn,” Berenson says. “Keep in mind that members of your network are busy with their own lives, careers and families. If you send them a novel or too many attachments, you’ll dissuade them from reading everything and it will backfire on you. Send them talking points — bullet points about you and your qualifications that they could use if they know someone who could use your skill set.”

Be a valuable connection
Networking requires just as much effort on your part as it does for your connections. “You can’t expect your network to work miracles, and you also can’t ignore your network and then think that just because you’ve shot out a blast email that you’re looking, that your network will come through for you,” Berenson says. “Effective networking is a two-way street of giving and receiving. Offer to help people in your network so that when it’s time that you need assistance, you’ve built up positive good will with your network.”

Also keep in mind that your actions and interactions with your network will determine what kind of opportunities come up. “The object is not to get the most contacts possible; the object is to get to know people and to give them a chance to get to know you,” Poor says. “They won’t refer you to a job unless they trust you and think you have a chance of doing the job well; their reputation is on the line when they refer you, so honor that risk that you’re asking them to take.”

Network on- and offline
Finally, try a mix of networking both on the computer and in person. “You could potentially meet new connections anywhere,” Berenson says. “Social media — including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter — and friends of friends should not be overlooked, but be careful to not hide behind your computer. True networking is best done face to face. Attend social gatherings, networking events, professional association meetings, chamber of commerce mixers, you name it.”

Susan Ricker is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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