Unless you’re updating your “Business Cards through the Ages” diorama or have a compulsive desire to buy lunch for other people, networking when you already have a good job can seem unnecessary. After all, what do you stand to gain from it?
Plenty, actually. For starters, “needless” networking keeps your connections — and your networking muscles — in good shape for when you do need help finding a new job. Getting in touch only when you’re scrambling for a job won’t endear you to your contacts, whether or not they’re willing to help.
The quality of that help will suffer, too. For example, a former colleague who needs to be reminded who you are isn’t likely to provide a sterling reference. Your current situation gives you a much better chance to invest the time it takes to let fruitful relationships develop naturally.
Staying connected also keeps you aware of career possibilities about which you wouldn’t otherwise know. It can even help you keep your current job fresh by exposing you to new perspectives about your work.
Perhaps best of all, the security of your position affords you a chance to learn to network in ways you genuinely enjoy. Networking can be fun when there’s no pressure to find an immediate job lead or have someone recommend you.
Don’t over-rely on online tools
Pressed for time, many workers count on online tools for most of their networking. A week’s worth of networking efforts might consist of accepting a few LinkedIn invitations and posting a career-oriented tweet or two. In just a few minutes, you can feel like you’ve kept your network in shape.
But if you haven’t talked to someone in awhile — and especially if you’ve never met offline — you’re on the inside track to oblivion. Most people’s online networks include dozens of six-degree contacts such as That Woman I Met at the Convention or The Guy Who Pitched Me His Services Two Years Ago. If your contacts place you in one of these vague categories, it’s a very short walk to I Have No Idea Who That Person Is.
Social networks are indispensable, but they alone don’t constitute a network that will nurture your career. Old-fashioned methods are better for establishing a memorable impression you can build on. That’s why you should use online tools as a prelude to, not a replacement for, face-to-face conversations.
If geography or other factors make that impossible, find ways to establish a connection that sets you apart from the crowd. For example, if you know someone in a particular field or industry, keep an eye out for relevant news stories or other links you might send her way.
Do what you like
Another obstacle to networking for many employed professionals is a lack of motivation. In the absence of an urgent need for new opportunities, the best way to ensure you’ll keep making connections is to identify and pursue networking activities you enjoy.
If you tend to have a good time at functions designed expressly to facilitate professional connections, attend them. But don’t limit yourself to these events. Meeting someone in a less formal context, such as a community organization, softball team or hiking group, often creates a more lasting bond than a quick exchange of business cards.
Don’t assume that such connections won’t yield concrete benefits for your career. You never know how a certain contact might be able to assist you down the road. Of course, you’ll meet some people at these unconventional networking events who will have no effect on your career, but that’s also true of even the most narrowly specialized industry event.
Find ways to help others
One of the most rewarding ways to approach networking is to consider what you can do for others. When you’re employed, living up to that standard becomes much easier. Orient yourself toward introductions you can make, opportunities you can identify and recommendations you can provide.
Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/dont-let-this-happen-to-you or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.