Exploring and expanding your career network

Networking is an important asset and involves finding, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships both professionally and socially. People often underestimate the power of their network and in what ways it can help them plan their career or find the job they are looking for.

Would you like to get the most out of your network but are you not sure how? The following steps serve as an action plan to guide you through.

Step 1: define your personal goal

The first step is for you to sit back and think about what it is you would like to achieve. What is your personal goal? Would you like to learn more about a specific company, role or sector? Then determine the goal for your networking activities: how many people you would like to speak to, including a timeframe.

Example personal goal: to connect with … number of professionals by end …, who are working in my target role and test any assumptions I may hold about the role.

Tip: share your goal with a person who will help hold you accountable to your goal (friend, partner, parent, professor, coach, etc.)

Step 2: audit your warm contacts

Assess the suitability of your current network (warm contacts) for helping you achieve your networking goal (alumni, research collaborators, MSc supervisees, ex-colleagues, professors contacts, referral by a friend).

Review your contacts on LinkedIn and other social media and professional networks, such as ResearchGate, Facebook, X etc. Don’t forget to review your personal contacts as well, such as family, friends, colleagues, people you know through sports/religious/hobby clubs or possibly your children’s schools. Write down the people you want to contact.

Step 3: find new contacts

Sometimes you do not have the right people or enough of the right people in your network to help you achieve your goal, so you need to identify people to add into your network (cold contacts).

Search online platforms, such as LinkedIn, Researchgate, X and other online networks to find people that have your target position or work in your target sector or company.

You can also identify alumni through your graduate school. Joining “Groups” on LinkedIn and Facebook that are directly connected to your field of interest is also beneficial to connect with new people.

Step 4: approach your network

Make a list of the contacts you want to approach and think about questions you would like to ask. Sample questions could be:

  • What are your main responsibilities as a...?
  • What is a typical day (or week) like for you?
  • What do you like most about your work?
  • What do you like least about your work?
  • How does your position fit within the organisation/career field/industry?
  • How does your job affect your private life?

Plan time slots in your agenda when you want to meet with the contacts selected (online, phone, realtime) and prepare a short (15-30 second) personal pitch to introduce yourself and prepare the context of the call. If you approach your contact directly in person or with a telephone call, they may respond more positively to your request as it is more difficult for them to say no to you in person – it’s easier to ignore or delete an email.

Step 5: plan meetings

Plan a meeting with your selected contacts. Always mention how you got their name and ask whether it’s a good time to talk for a few minutes. Emphasise that you are looking for information/advice, not a job and ask for a convenient time to have a 20-30 minute appointment.

Step 6: the meeting

Take time prior to the session to centre and focus – remind yourself about the goal of the session. Ensure you have your prepared questions at hand. If your meeting is online, ensure you have a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. Check if the camera and sound works and that the lighting is good. If you are meeting in person, plan to arrive 10 mins beforehand so you can settle yourself.

Here are some conversational tips & tricks:

  • Restate that your objective is to get information and advice
  • Give a brief overview of yourself (education and/or work experience)
  • Be prepared to direct the conversation, but also let it flow naturally, and encourage the contact to do most of the talking
  • Listen well and show genuine interest in what the person has to say
  • Respect the person's time - keep the meeting length within the agreed-upon timeframe
  • Ask the person if you may contact them again in the future with other questions
  • Ask if they can introduce you to other people to meet so as to gain different perspectives
  • Ask if they would like a copy of your CV. You may ask for input about it at some point in the meeting, but first make sure you’ve established a comfortable rapport with the person

Step 7: evaluate the meeting and keep relationship strong

Keep your relationships strong and working for you by keeping in touch with the person, especially if you had a particularly good interaction; let them know that you followed up on their advice and how things are going as a result. This relationship could become an important part of your network in the future.

Write down what you have learned, and what more you'd like to know. Also include any agreed-upon follow-up actions. Send a thank-you note preferably on the same day but no later than 2 days after the meeting to express your appreciation for the time and information given.