Successful career management begins with networking. Done effectively and consistently over time, networking builds the relationships that can help you land that dream job, make a career transition faster and easier, build your professional expertise, and keep you “in the know” at your current company.

Think about networking as a career-long exercise in building and maintaining relationships. Too many executives and professionals are so busy collecting business cards they forget about what makes a relationship work for both sides.

Networking isn’t just who you know. It’s who knows you — and, most importantly, who knows what you can do. Always approach networking with the goal of finding out how you can be truly useful to new and current contacts.

Invest in your relationships

Once you develop a contact you want to cultivate, just do it. Find those ways to make a small (or big) difference. That may consist simply of passing on a relevant link. Being helpful doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort if you are smart about what your contact needs to do his or her job better.

On the other hand, a contact you have grown close to through mutual assistance and support can actually complement executive career coaching by helping to guide you in a different career direction or to a possible employer you might not have considered. If that close contact works where you do, he or she may become willing to share the lowdown on what’s happening or big changes on the way. Investing thoughtful help into a relationship can pay big dividends in the long run.

Network Consistently

Even if you are happy in your job, get out there. Make a continual effort to connect with new colleagues outside your current employer and potential new employers. Set a goal of attending an event once or twice a month.

Online networking is a great first step and can point you to the events appropriate for your field or industry. Keep in mind, however, that many businesses generally hire only those they have met and evaluated in person. That is why online networking is no substitute for being there and letting contacts see your face and hear you speak.

Remember, too, that the world online holds potential dangers to your career. If you are not authorized to speak online on behalf of your company, say nothing. And do not post those pet photos or make potentially offensive comments in any professional forum, like LinkedIn. In fact, consider not posting them at all. They detract from your professionalism.

Keep it short and sweet

When you meet a potential contact, can you tell this person what you do in no longer than 60 seconds? Hone and refine your “elevator speech” until you can say it in a conversational manner and tone. No one wants to endure a stilted recitation, even if it is less than a minute long.

Pay attention when you meet potential contacts. If you are tweeting or texting while you are shaking hands, no one will take you seriously. Many of those you encounter will be offended that you do not consider them important enough to pay them undivided attention.

Networking is like driving. It should take all of your attention and focus while you are doing it.

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