Strategic Networking: How to Grow Your Network Before You Need It

strategic networkingYou don’t have time to waste. You have people to meet and career goals to nourish. So how can you use strategic networking to grown your personal network, and ultimately reap career success?

Sure, you need to be committed, relentless and purposeful. But more than that: you need a plan. 

And it is always better to begin this process before really need it. So let’s discuss how to turn casual networking into strategic networking!

Create A Networking Bucket List

The first step in strategic networking? Brainstorm the people you have always wanted to meet. These folks may be local or perhaps they are industry legends. It doesn’t matter. Put their names on your list. We’ll worry about how to meet them later.

Target Company Insiders

There are companies you’ve either always wanted to work for or have heard good things about. They may even be competitors. These are what I mean by target companies. Even if you are happy in your role, you should think about identifying target companies. If you know names of people who work there, list them. If not, you can research them on LinkedIn.

Start with Your Current Network

People in your current network know lots of people. In order to strategically grow your network, you need to re-engage with your network. Make a list of all these people. Sure, you have your email contacts and your LinkedIn connections, but don’t forget about the many other people you know!

Create a spreadsheet with these names and rate your relationship with them. For example, 1 = strong, 2 = acquaintance/casual, 3 = weak  4 = target but unknown 5 = referral. This is just one example. You may have your own system. When starting out, you want to tap your strong ties first. They tend to be more forgiving and helpful which is just perfect if you are new or uncomfortable with this networking adventure. You need practice before meeting with higher-stakes networking contacts!

Strategic Networking 101: Getting Out

Some of the best networking just happens by chance encounters. It may be a trip to the store, a volunteer assignment or maybe an industry meet-up. The more active you are, the greater your chances of fortuitously meeting new people who can help strategically grow your nwtwork.

Take It Slow

Keep this in mind before you start reaching out to strategically grow your network!

Your first meeting with someone, whether it be at an event or even over coffee is supposed to be about building a connection.  Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Don’t ask for too much during your first encounter. Take it slow.

The same is true when reaching out to someone you don’t know via LinkedIn or email. You want to connect first and then follow up with your request for a phone call or meeting. Don’t come across too aggressive.

Research On LinkedIn

Once you’ve found the person you want to meet on LinkedIn, read their profile in depth. Look at articles they have liked or written on LinkedIn. You’re trying to get a sense of what is important to them. You may be able to use this information during your meeting. Look at their work history and education. Are there any parallels to your experience or education? See who they are connected to. Do you know people in common? Using the name of a mutual connection can warm up a cold call/connection request.

And don’t just research on LinkedIn, check other social networks like Facebook and Twitter (which are relatively easy to search). See what updates they are sharing. It may help you craft your strategic networking outreach message.

Plan Your Message

There’s one question you want to ask yourself before you reach out to each person on your list.

“How can this person help me?”

Your answer may be one of these:

  • We worked together, they know my work and may have leads.
  • This person knows A LOT of people, so they can help spread my message or provide referrals.
  • This person knows the industry and can share insights.

If you don’t know exactly how the person can help you…yet, don’t eliminate their name. Sometimes reconnecting is nothing more than staying in touch.

Remember,  you are reaching out to establish (or re-establish) your relationship. Relationships are all about trust. In fact, 83% of people say they trust recommendations from friends and family according to Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Report 2015. 

Know How To Describe What You Do

You want to use a clear and simple message to describe yourself (and what you do). So you want to create a clear value proposition or brand statement. Yours should contain these three things:

  • What you do (the problem you solve)
  • Who you help
  • How you do it uniquely

Of course, it has to be easy enough for anyone to understand AND remember. So avoid using technical lingo, acronyms, industry buzzwords, or being vague. (There’s time for more details about your skills later. Be patient).

If you are transitioning into a new role, you don’t need to introduce yourself by telling that part of your story. Instead, stay focused on the transferable nature of the problem you solve. In other words, think big picture.

If you want to try a shorter, more engaging pitch, learn more about the micro-pitch.

Writing Your Email

I suggest you send an email over LinkedIn’s InMail or messaging. Many people don’t check LinkedIn very often. But sometimes, LinkedIn may be your only option.

As you craft your brief outreach message, keep in mind how important the subject line is. Keep it short and make it interesting. Especially if the person doesn’t know you. If you don’t know the person well, either remind them of how you met or explain where your interests overlap or how you’ve heard of them. Next, state your purpose for wanting to talk/meet/connect with them.

You’re looking to strategically grow your network through advice, information or recommendations! (Not a job). So the more specific you are in stating the purpose, the more likely someone will be to accept. A vague or general request for a meeting often puts people on alert as they have experienced one too many “bait and switch” meetings (a meeting where the person tried to sell them insurance, asked for an introduction to the CEO or flat out asked for a job).

Make it super simple to schedule a time with you. Include dates and times that work well for you. This will help solidify the request. Thank the person in advance! You’re done. But do make sure your email includes a signature block.

Don’t wait for a crisis to create a strategic networking plan. Build time into your calendar to build your network before you need it!


For this post , YouTern thanks our friends at Career Sherpa.


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Hannah Morgan hiring prosAbout the Author: Hannah Morgan is a career sherpa, guiding new job seekers through the treacherous terrain of job search. If you are looking for no-nonsense advice, check out her site Career Sherpa. And follow Hannah on Twitter for the latest job search news and trends!



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