Effective networking is arguably the single most important thing you can do to take your career from good to great. Professional connection opportunities are around every corner, but positioning yourself to meet the right people in the right situations can be a challenge. Additionally, if you don’t know how to leverage those connections, then you’re stuck at square one. Today’s article discusses four ways you can improve your networking skills and drive your career forward.   

Keep Sight of Your Long-Term Goals 

Networking is a long game. The chances of you meeting someone who will offer you a job right off the bat is very unlikely. Focus instead on making and nurturing those long-term connections that will pay off further down the road. Think seriously about where you want to be in your career in one, five, and even ten years. Every person you meet has the potential to provide a lead or help you on a project at some point in your career. Just remember that the more you can learn from people within your network, the more powerful that network will be.  

Have a Plan 

If you are going to a networking event (or any event really where you might be able to meet people relevant to your career), it’s important to have a plan and prepare for what you want to say and what you want to learn while you’re there. Just making the effort to go to a networking event isn’t enough. Know your own game plan. Make a list of the people you want to meet. Think about what you’ll talk about, and how you’ll position yourself as a good connection for them to make as well. Do your research. Look up their profiles on LinkedIn, read their blog, dig into their website. Have a couple hooks you can use to start a conversation with them, and show your value in the discussion. 

Be A Proactive Helper 

People connect best with those who are willing to help them achieve their goals. When you start a conversation with a new connection, make it about them. Talk about their challenges, make some suggestions for how they can solve those problems. Mention past experiences of your own that are relevant and be authentic and proactive in your willingness to help. That will always make you a friend no matter what industry you are in.   

Stay Positive  

Keep in mind that even with your best foot forward, not everyone will want to help you, or be in a position to help you. At least for now. Again, networking isn’t about closing a deal right away. It’s about making connections, showing your value, and building your network in ways that can be of real service to your career later down the road. It can be discouraging to not see direct action taken on behalf of your career once you make a good connection, but the truth is that you never know when the right reference can come in handy. So stay positive and keep working on building that network.  

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