12 Networking Opportunities You Cannot Afford To Miss

In a previous article on networking mistakes, I addressed several of the stumbling blocks that many people encounter when beginning to network. But to make those mistakes, you have to at least get started! This article addresses 12 potential avenues for networking that you may have overlooked.

NetworkThere’s no better job search or career exploration strategy than networking. Deciding to use networking is a wise decision for your career and your own personal development. But too many people think of networking as a stressful event, attending some boring get togethers with old guys that smell funny and wear a toupee, dressed in uncomfortable clothes, shaking hands until you’re sore, giving out business cards, slapping people on the back, laughing at stupid jokes, and trying to act interested and interesting. No wonder no one thinks it’s a worthwhile activity.

In reality, networking is a simple exchange of information among like minded people with whom you have a relationship. It doesn’t even have to be a deep relationship either. So long as you know someone moderately well, and feel comfortable with them (and they with you), you can network.

Everyone has networking contacts.

1. College professors. Believe it or not, college professors have off campus lives! Many of them act as consultants and conduct research that connects them with movers and shakers in business. They know who is hiring, which companies are strong, and which ones pay well. Start and maintain a good relationship with your professors and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come. It also helps to reconnect with professors even if you graduated several years ago.

2. Student Organizations Most campuses sponsor various student organizations of all kinds, including student groups associated with professional associations. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management has student chapters at more than 400 schools. The Professional Accounting Society of America has chapters on college campuses, as does the National Society of Professional Engineers. Get connected to your industry group.

3. Your School’s Alumni Association Get involved with your college, university, or school’s alumni association. This is a chance to renew old bonds and forge new ones with people in your age group and who have life experiences similar to yours.

4. Social-Media You can network with people in a host of ways through social media. Blogging, starting your own website, Twitter, Linked-In, Stumble Upon, Digg, and many other sites can help connect you with like minded people.

Connections are what networking is all about.

5. Linked-In My personal favorite professional networking site is Linked-In. If you want to connect to me, you can do so by checking out my professional profile.

6. Professional Industry Associations If you’re not a member of a professional group within your industry, you should be. It’s a natural way to establish contacts and begin networking since you have an instant peer group. As you get more and more involved, you’ll find that people will be drawn to you because you’re visible. Run for an office in the group, accept leadership roles, serve on committees, and offer to give presentations. A higher degree of visibility makes networking more comfortable and adds to your career development and stature within your industry.

7. Professional Classes and Development If you have an opportunity to take courses relating to your field, do it! It’s an ideal way to meet peers and leaders in your field and is just another opportunity to expand your personal network. Always take a little time before or after class to chat with classmates and professors, or stay in touch by phone or email.

8. Special Interest Classes If you have the chance to take a non-professional course in something that interests you such as gardening or martial arts, that is also a great way to expand your personal network.

9. Church and Religious Affiliations Don’t over-do it here but religious affiliations work similar to professional groups in that you get the opportunity to work with people who share your values. Religious activities also provide opportunities for visibility, different types of management roles, leadership and peer mentoring.

10. Sports Organizations If you have children involved in sports, take the opportunity to meet and chat with other parents. These are people that are probably in your age group and could help you expand your network even further.

11. Social/Leisure-Time Groups Too many people turn down invitations to holiday parties, celebrations, or fund-raising dinners, thinking they’re a waste of time. Don’t those folks know how busy we are during the holidays? You know what? These “wastes of time” can prove to be some of your best networking opportunities, because people are relaxed and in festive moods. Next time, accept that invitation and cultivate your relationships.

12. Political Groups Who networks better than politicians? They’re the kings and queens of networking. Use that fact to your advantage and, remember who pays the salaries for those representatives and senators. It’s you. Use that resource and tap your representative’s staff for the information you need. Call back until you get what you want.

YOU have networking contacts.

Those contacts simply need you to ask the right questions, and usually they come up with lots of opportunities and names of people who might be able to help you. Networking means connecting with people who know you or want to get to know you. This could even be your boss or your former boss. Once you recognize this, you’ll take time to say hello to coworkers and keep in touch with former professors and classmates, as well as folks you’ve met at professional meetings, conferences, sporting events, or Christmas parties. Along the way, networking will become part of your regular routine rather than some dreaded task and you’ll be able to network without anyone even realizing it.