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Top Ways to Improve Your Network

monica forret

Monica Forret, PhD

April 2017

Networking has become a vital part of the business world. But knowing how to make connections is not always easy. It takes time and effort to cultivate relationships that develop into your network.

The results are worth it, with research showing a successful network influences career outcomes such as increased job opportunities, job performance, income, promotions, and career satisfaction. Below are four ways to reassess and improve your network following the advice of Monica Forret, PhD, Professor of Management and well-published expert on the issue.

1. Build a varied network of different individuals.
One of the keys to a successful network is not only the number of connections, but also the structure.

"The most significant issue is how connected your contacts are to each other," Forret said. "Although it may seem counterintuitive, it is more beneficial from a network perspective to have contacts who do not know one another. "Building a network in which there is little redundancy among the members provides a greater variety of information and access to many different individuals."

2. Have different audiences from many groups.
It is also important to build your network with different audiences, such as professional, organizational, and community. A balanced approach to networking helps ensure you reach different groups of individuals.

"Look for networking opportunities in your organization. Joining committees or special task forces is a way to increase skills and visibility," Forret said. "Gaining exposure to different parts of your organization and developing relationships can result in unexpected opportunities."

3. Think of your community connections as a part of your network.
Networking in your community can be beneficial from both a business and personal standpoint. Joining boards of community groups or attending meetings of service clubs tend to broaden types of contacts considerably.

"You might not participate in community activities primarily for the purpose of networking, but the relationships that can develop often have important career implications," Forret said.

4. Attend Networking Events
Going to a networking event can be intimidating for some people. Here are a few ways to ease your nerves and make the event a success!

  • Arrive early: there will be fewer people there, allowing you to talk one-on-one with a few others ahead of the rush.
  • Choose a number: set a goal for the number of people you will speak with at the event. Reward yourself for meeting your goal, or bring a friend and whoever talks to fewer people buys the other dinner.
  • Listen: networking is not about making a sale, it's about building relationships. When you start a conversation with someone, ask why he or she is attending. Then dig deeper - ask how they got into their job, and what they like about it. Getting to know someone on a more personal level will make an impression. When you eventually reach out to them, they will be interested in you because you showed interest in them.
  • Following up: if you don't follow up, you will fail. You should make contact within two days of meeting someone. This can be done via email, phone call or text. Don't just say the generic "It was nice meeting you" message - tie in something personal you learned about them.
  • Connecting on social media: LinkedIn is a well-known professional social media network you can use to connect with new acquaintances. Also, check to see if there is a specialized online social network for your industry. For example, ResearchGate is a social network for academics to connect with other scholars.

Networking can become second nature once you've mastered these suggestions. The benefits to your personal and professional development will grow over time as meeting new, different, and interesting people becomes a routine part of events you attend.

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