4 ways to expand your professional network

When you’re searching for your first professional job, someone is bound to tell you that “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” In a competitive job market, having an inside man to vouch for you can often give you an edge over other qualified candidates. 

The problem for many entry-level job seekers is that valuable connections aren’t easy to come by. Here are five ways that you can strategically expand your professional network to include the right people. 

1. Start volunteering
There’s no easier way to connect with like-minded people than to get involved with a charity or volunteer organization. Not only will volunteering look good on your resume, but it will also help you meet professionals who have similar priorities and passions. It’s really a no-brainer! Look into local volunteer opportunities – you’ll be amazed at who you meet while giving back. 

“Ensure that your social profiles are polished and professional.”

2. Leverage social media
Social media allows people to connect with everyone from celebrities to CEOs. Use these sites to your advantage when you’re networking. Start by following your professional role models and getting involved in online conversations about your industry. This may help you attract the attention of valuable contacts. 

However, for this to work, you need to ensure your social media profiles are polished and professional. Assume that the people you tweet at or mention are going to glimpse at your profile – don’t turn them off with inappropriate content. 

3. Attend alumni events
You don’t have to leave everything behind when you graduate college. In fact, many schools have alumni networks that can prove extremely valuable to job seekers. Get involved with your school’s alumni association and make sure to attend any events that you can. It’s a great way to rub elbows with other professionals who went to your alma mater. 

4. Join industry organizations
Trying to break into the finance industry? Or maybe you’re looking for a job in marketing? No matter what field you’re interested in, there are professional organizations that you can join. Search LinkedIn for professional groups in your area or simply start with a Google search. Many organizations host events that will get you face-to-face with people in your industry. 

Bonus. Keep in touch
Perhaps the easiest way to build a strong professional network is to keep in touch with the various people you meet. Whenever someone gives you his or her business card – whether it’s at a conference, during an informational interview or on an airplane – don’t just stash it away in your wallet. Sit down and write a quick email to connect with the individual. Add him or her on LinkedIn. You should also make a point to connect with former professors, employers, managers, co-workers and classmates. By actively engaging with the professionals you meet, you’ll be putting yourself in a better position to ask for a reference or leg-up if you ever need it.