No matter what stage you are in your career, networking is an important practice to keep up.

Building a better professional network can help you make valuable connections with potential partners, clients, mentors, and supervisors. But you might not be sure how to network efficiently or effectively, especially now that so many companies and people are embracing hybrid or distributed setups.

We talked to two career experts on how to get their advice on how to grow your professional network.

Set your networking goals.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is networking without a strategy, notes Amanda Augustine, a certified career coach for Top Resume.

“The value of each opportunity will depend on what you’re hoping to achieve through networking,” says Augustine. Make an assessment of what you’re hoping to accomplish: Are you looking to build skills? Find resources to improve your business? Gain knowledge about an industry?

Whatever goal you decide on will form the foundation of your networking strategy. “For example, if you’re looking to meet like-minded professionals from your industry, then participating in-person or virtual trade shows, conferences, and other industry-specific discussions would be a smart move.”

Don’t underestimate anyone.

When trying to find people to connect with, “you never know who will be the ‘right’ person,” says J. Kelly Hoey, author of “Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World.”

A friend of your cousin, your barber, or personal trainer could be the person who helps you take that next step, so share your networking goals and career dreams with anyone or everyone. “Thinking there is one right person to help you undervalues the potential of others to help you and, by doing so, you may overlook an immediately valuable connection,” Hoey says.

Find ways to connect online.

If face-to-face meetings are off the table, turn to digital tools and platforms.

“Use social media channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to find professionals who work in the field or for a company that interests you,” recommends Augustine. “Start engaging with their posts and building an online rapport before requesting a short phone or video call to learn more about their work. Better yet, if you have mutual [connections], ask for an introduction.”
Augstine also suggests attending online events found through your alma mater, professional networks, and on sites such as 10times, Meetup, and Eventbrite. And then there are the new platforms developed during the pandemic which can help professionals connect online, like Clubhouse.

“You can listen to other industry leaders in your profession, ask questions, or even speak with recruiters in your space to learn more about their open positions,” says Augustine. “Not only that, [but also] you can participate in the conversation and share your insights to advertise your experience.”

Learn to listen.

Remember: Networking is a two-way street. Active listening is just as important as finding a way to start conversation.

To create mutually beneficial relationships, Augustine advises that you “ask you questions to better understand the other person’s needs so you can find ways to offer assistance before asking for favors. The more you learn about them, the easier it will be to pay it forward [with] anything from an app recommendation to an introduction to someone in your existing network.”

Follow up.

Another big mistake that networkers tend to make is failing to connect regularly with their new contacts. “No one wants to be hit up once for guidance, feedback, or an introduction then immediately dropped from all lines of communication,” says Hoey, who warns that reaching out to your contacts only when you need something will make them “less likely to pick up your call (or answer your email) in the future.”

“The business card or email address you collected is only as valuable as what you choose to do with that information after the fact,” adds Augustine. “Remember, networking is often about playing the long game. So reach out, follow up, and start nurturing these new connections to turn them into valuable relationships.”