How to “Network” like a kick-ass professional.

Ugh. Networking. It gets a bad rap because, at its core, networking boils down to that old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” – and if you’re feeling like the small fish in a big pond at your first “big girl” job, this news can feel a bit like a slap in the face. Who are you supposed to network with? Your boss? Isn’t that weird? Won’t that make you look like a suck-up? Not if you’re doing it right! Whether you’re just starting off in your career or you’re looking to make that next big leap, one of the best skills a young professional can learn is how to network, network, network!

confessions_of_a_shopaholic09Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1) Be Your Own Brand
You don’t have to be in marketing to develop your own brand – because that brand is you! Know what makes you tick, and how your work stands out from everyone else’s. Maybe you’re a creative visionary, or the disciplined leader who drives sales numbers, or maybe you’re the positive, out-going girl who remembers everyone’s name and brings homemade brownies to the carry-ins… whatever it is you’ve got going for you – brand it as your image, and sell it! Superiors take notice of all of the above, and when it comes time for promotion opportunities, they’ll remember the hard-working creative girl who says “hello” to everyone in the mornings and brings homemade brownies to the carry-ins.

2) Carry A Card
I’ve always wanted a job where I got to carry around business cards, it seems so grown-up and “business-y”. Some people might tell you that business cards are irrelevant in today’s digital age. But I beg to differ. Having beautiful, well-designed business cards are one more way to brand yourself that you can instantly show off to anyone you meet. (Of course it’s nice if you also have a beautiful, well designed website to go with them.) Invest in something special—think thick cardstock and letterpress—to ensure that your card won’t get thrown away at the end of the day.

3) Try For Face Time
No, I don’t mean on your iPhone. If there is someone you have been working with for a while via email or social media, make an effort to meet in person at some point. Sitting down with someone face to face always makes a much greater impression than any phone call or email can. It also helps to go to events in your industry, even when you’re not actively looking for a job or seeking new business. Just getting in the room with people in your field will inspire you, and can lead to connections that will help you later on.

4) Make Meaningful Relationships
Networking is not about making connections just for the sake of business. If you can make real friends in your industry, your “network” will be that much stronger (and “business lunches” will be that much more fun!). I consider some of the girls I work with to be close friends. Because we’re so close I know I can count on them for creative inspiration, business savvy, and important connections within the industry. (Plus it’s always nice to have someone around the office who you can vent to on a stressful Monday morning!)

5) Be Social Media Savvy
This doesn’t just mean Facebook and Twitter. When used properly, social media can be a great tool for making and strengthening business connections. But if you are going to connect with an industry colleague on social media, make sure you are using it appropriately (so, if you haven’t already, maybe get rid of those embarrassing pics from freshman year.) I recommend only adding a business contact on Facebook if you know them very well and consider them a friend too. Otherwise, use a site intended for networking like LinkedIn. As far as Instagram and Twitter go, it can pay to follow companies and brands that you admire. It will help you keep up with whatever they are doing, and more and more companies are even posting jobs on their social media channels.

6) Dress To Impress
This is a fun one, because you get to dress up! First impressions are everything when it comes to networking. So the same rules that go for dressing for the office go for industry events. Even if you’re technically “off the clock” (at a happy hour with colleagues, for instance), you will want to dress professionally. Come on, ladies – you’re not in college anymore, yoga pants and a t-shirt aren’t going to cut it.

7) Connect The Dots
The word “networking” gets a bad wrap because so many people think it is synonymous with trying to get ahead. But networking shouldn’t be an entirely selfish endeavor. A good networker is always introducing his or her contacts to one another, and trying to help their colleagues make important connections. What goes around comes around, and having this attitude will help you in the long term.

These tips were taken from Lauren Conrad’s lifestyle blog, because reading it is cheaper than hiring a life coach.

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