If you’re new to the world of LinkedIn and professional networks (and most women returning to the workforce are), then this is a good time for you to be thoughtful about your professional network. Hopefully by now I don’t have to convince you that getting to know people and building relationships are critical to your job search and, indeed, your professional success. But if you’re starting from scratch with LinkedIn, you might be wondering how on earth you’re going to amass a number of connections. More importantly, you might be worried that you don’t know the right people or enough of the right people.

 Relax – I’ve got your back! Here are some strategies for expanding your network – on LinkedIn and otherwise.

  • First, assess the state of your network. How strong is your network and how strong are your connections inside that network? I prefer to think about the strength of a network, instead of its size, because I’m a quality over quantity person. Having 1,000 connections on LinkedIn isn’t worth much if you don’t actually know them and can’t rely on them to help you if you ask. 
  • Second, realize that your message needs to be clear and will be different depending on who you are reaching out to. Friends and acquaintances are probably fine with a “Hi, here’s what I’m up to” type of message. The people you don’t know may need a more formal and flattering message like “I’ve read your books / saw you speak / admire your position on ______.”  I’d like to connect so I can continue to follow your success.” 
  • Third, reconnect with people you’ve lost touch with via LinkedIn. I love hearing from people that I knew way back when! Carol Fishman Cohen, Chair of iRelaunch, tells re-launchers that they shouldn’t fear reconnecting with former colleagues because those people will remember you as you were when they knew you. In other words, people will remember the “professional you” even if that was from years ago. 

After reconnecting, it’s perfectly OK to tap into that network for help.  Many of us aren’t comfortable asking for help, but would happily help someone who asked us for a favor. Understand that sometimes in your life you’ll be in a position to give back to your network and sometimes you’ll need to tap your network for help. Both of these are perfectly natural.

Always ask “Is there anything I can help you with?” when you ask someone in your network for a favor. You never know what they might need help with so it’s always good to ask. Plus, both relationship-building and networking are two-way streets, so be prepared to give at least as much as you get.

Building and maintaining a strong network are critical to your successful career. If your network needs work, start today to map out who you know and who you’d like to know. Then reach out and build those relationships. If you’ve got a robust network but have let it go dormant, start reconnecting to people by noticing their successes and reaching out to say hi. Here’s a network map that will help you generate ideas about people you should be reaching out to and connecting to on LinkedIn. 

Most of all, make networking and building relationships a habit that you work on every day. Happy connecting

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