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Keep Your Network Thriving for Career Advancement

CTU - Advance your careerThe economy and its effect on your career, is a funny thing. One minute, you’re doing work that inspires you. The next, you’re finding out that your position has been eliminated, or other changes occur that make your former bliss a nightmare. In those moments, it may feel like you career dreams have shattered, but smart professionals know the secret to getting back on their feet quickly: a powerful professional network.

For as long as people have been doing business, they have been making connections with professional peers. Yet, today’s job seeker has both the challenge and benefit of living in a digital world. On the one hand, maintaining an online presence can feel like yet one more item to put on your to-do list for overwhelmed professionals. However, you now have more ways to communicate with people than any generations before, and that means more opportunities to get ahead.

You never know where a job lead will come from, so giving yourself the best chance to make a great impression is crucial. Remember, employers are already searching for your online presence when you apply for a job. A CareerBuilder survey found that 19 percent of hiring managers said they found something online that caused them to hire an applicant (with those factors ranging from creativity to professionalism). Building a strong digital presence is a great way to network and it pays off online and in person.

Here are some ways to strengthen your network, both offline and online.

1. Taking it online

There are a number of ways to connect with potential employers and colleagues online. For starters, develop a professional social media profile or portfolio (depending on your field). This online presence is like having an abbreviated résumé online. You can create your own site or start a Tumblr blog, set up a LinkedIn profile, or even create a public Facebook or Twitter account.

You can find online forums and groups for just about any profession, and members can ask (and answer) questions, discuss industry news, and share best practices. On sites like Facebook or LinkedIn, you have the benefit of seeing who your contacts are connected to so that you can ask for an introduction to industry professionals they may know. Twitter allows users to build expertise, follow influencers, and contact thought leaders in their field. If you don’t already have an online presence on either of these two sites, set one up. It only takes a few minutes and your profile is essentially your online business card. A word of caution though – only set one up if you’re ready commit to maintaining it. An abandoned social profile will not speak well of you.

Be sure to also visit your school’s alumni network to find alums in your area who can sit down for an informational lunch with you or put you in contact with others in the industry.

2. Attend live networking events

While it’s tempting for some to network from the safety of their laptop or smartphone, nothing can replace the experience of face-to-face networking. An easy way to start is to get to know your instructors and classmates. Even if you take online courses, you can and should still participate in networking events in your area. Local professional organizations, community centers, and chambers of commerce frequently hold networking events and information sessions. In-person networking is important, especially if you’re living in the region where you’ll be job hunting, so take advantage of these opportunities and come prepared.

Make networking cards (if you don’t currently have business cards) that contain your name, area of study, expected graduation date, contact information, and your LinkedIn and Twitter URLs, and distribute them to people you meet at networking events. Strengthen these in-person connections by following up with an e-mail, follow them on Twitter, or request to connect on LinkedIn.

3. Conduct informational interviews

Once you’ve brokered an introduction, be sure to maintain the connection and keep in touch with your new contacts. If you happen to see an article that you think may interest them, send it along. If you notice they’ve been promoted at work on LinkedIn, send a congratulatory e-mail. Ask if you could buy them a cup of coffee to pick their brain about the industry. Generally speaking, many people are willing to share their expertise with students (provided they aren’t being asked for a job), as they’ve been in your shoes.

Finally, keep in touch with old friends, classmates, professors, and former employers, even when you’re not looking for a job. It’s important to develop and maintain these relationships over time. Remember, people are more willing to help when they know you, they like you, and you’re not in touch with them only when you need something.

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