Strategic networking is the ability to proactively build and maintain relationships that support your career goals. Whether you’re networking for information, advice, referrals, or job leads, this guide will help you develop a plan to create valuable connections.
Common misconceptions about networking
What do you think of when you hear the word networking? For many people, networking carries a negative connotation that prevents them from engaging in the process altogether. Below is a list of common misconceptions about networking along with brief explanations that challenge this way of thinking:
- Networking is manipulative: Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships, not using people to get ahead in your career. By finding small ways to help others or build relationships around shared interests, you can network with authenticity and integrity.
- Networking is too time-consuming: Reaching out to new contacts via LinkedIn®, planning small get-togethers, or scheduling regular check-ins with existing contacts doesn’t take much time at all. Small, consistent actions are enough to build and maintain connections.
- Networking is only for extroverts: Whether you seek out individual conversations, request warm introductions from friends, or prepare talking points prior to meeting someone, you can use a variety of strategies to network in ways that suit your interpersonal style.
- Networking is only valuable when you need a job: A diverse, active network gives you access to new ideas, information, resources, and opportunities, making it essential for all stages of your career. However, you must build and maintain your network before you need it.
Your perception of networking affects the time and effort you’re willing to invest in it. Thus, before you develop a networking plan, think about any negative beliefs you may have about networking. What misconceptions about networking must you overcome to grow your network? List them below:
Developing a strategic networking plan
Networking can feel overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Below are the basic steps you can take to develop your networking plan:
- Establish your goal for networking
- Define your target audience
- Identify your existing network
- Activate your network
- Expand your network
- Strengthen your relationships
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Step 1: Establish your goal for networking
The first step to creating a networking plan is to reflect on what you hope to accomplish by building professional relationships. Some common goals for networking include:
- Enhance your knowledge of a specific industry, company, or role
- Find mentors who can provide encouragement and advice
- Learn about entry points into your desired career field
- Uncover “hidden” or unadvertised job opportunities
- Establish friendships to make work more enjoyable
- Build partnerships to expand your influence
- Get referred to job opportunities
Although building a network of relationships empowers you to achieve your goals, it also increases your capacity to help others achieve theirs. Your network is more likely to share their knowledge, support, and resources, when they know, like, and trust you. Thus, never put your goals above building genuine relationships or your networking efforts, and your reputation, will fail.
You can achieve everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get
what they want.
– Zig Ziglar
Author & Motivational Speaker
Step 2: Define your target audience
With some networking goals in mind, it’s time to define your target audience. Your target audience is the specific group of professionals with whom you’d like to connect.
The chart below will help you clarify the location, industries, companies, and job titles that reflect your current career interests. This activity will help you establish a reasonably clear description of the type of professionals you may want to meet. You don’t need to know the answer to every question, just enough to establish a general direction.
Write your answers in this column
Where you want to work? Will relocation be necessary?
Which industries are you interested in?
What companies are you interested in learning more about?
What job function are you pursuing (e.g. HR, Accounting, Social Work, Nursing, etc.)?
What job titles align with your interests and professional level?
Your ability to describe your career interests is vital to your networking efforts. This will not only help you identify people in your network who fit the description, but also help your network understand who you want to meet, so they can introduce you to relevant contacts.
So, before you proceed, make sure you have a relatively clear description of your target audience. The statements below are examples of an unclear target audience and one that is clear enough to make the right connections.
“I’m looking for a job with a company that pays well and offers good benefits.”
“I’m interested in entry-level marketing roles, possibly for software companies or healthcare organizations in Phoenix, AZ.”
Step 3: Identify your existing network
The next step to your networking plan is to identify your existing network. Your network is larger than you may think! Use the mind map below to identify your close contacts and acquaintances. Then, highlight people who are in your target audience or who can introduce you to someone who is. If you’re unable to do so, that’s okay. You will also learn how to expand your network to develop new contacts.
Step 4: Activate your network
Activating your network is about letting your network know how they can help you. In this step, you will contact people in your network to request introductions and informational interviews. An informational interview is not a job interview. It is a conversation with someone in the industry, company, or role you’re interested in for the purpose of getting the information or advice you need to succeed in your career.
Below are strategies for reaching out to people to request introductions and informational interviews. Later in this guide you will find a sample list of questions you can ask during your informational interviews.
Reach out to close contacts first
Strategy 1: Send targeted messages to your close contacts
Call or email people directly who are in your target market to request a meeting.
Sample message to a close contact
Hey [Friend’s Name],
I wanted to reach out because I’m considering a career move into product marketing for small to medium sized medical software companies in Phoenix. Since you’re in (industry/company/role), I thought we could meet up some time, so I can get your perspective on (industry/company/role).
If you’re free next week around [suggested times], let me take you to lunch. I’d really appreciate your insights and advice.
– Charles Hubbard
Strategy 2: Send a group message to your close contacts
Send a group email to your close contacts to start generating leads for informational interviews with your target audience.
Sample group message to close contacts
As many of you know, I’ve been in my current line of work as a (insert profession) for (insert time). I’m now researching and exploring product marketing roles for small to medium sized medical software companies in Phoenix, AZ, and I’m reaching out to ask for your help with introductions to people in this field.
My goal is to start developing new contacts, not to discuss job opportunities, but rather to gain deeper insights about the industry and the companies in the market. If you know anyone in this career field, I would appreciate an introduction.
Thanks for your help! I’ll touch base with you individually soon!
– Charles Hubbard
After a couple of weeks go by, send a group thank you note, so your network remembers to help you connect with your target audience . You should also send a personalized thank you email to every single person who responds to your request for help!
Sample group thank you note
I appreciate the contacts some of you have sent – you guys are great friends! I’m still interested in building new contacts with people in product marketing for medical software companies in Phoenix, so if you can make an introduction to someone in the field, please let me know. I hope all is well!
– Charles Hubbard
Reach out to acquaintances
When reaching out to acquaintances, you’ll need to be slightly more “formal” with your phone and email etiquette. Focus on strengthening your connection since these are people with whom you have weak ties. Use the strategies below for your outreach.
Strategy 1: Contact acquaintances
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you haven’t spoken to in a while. If one of your close contacts introduces you to an acquaintance, follow up immediately and request a meeting.
Sample message to an acquaintance
Hi (contact name)
I hope all is well! It’s been a while since we met at (insert where you met). I’m currently researching product marketing in the medical software field and thought about you given your impressive 10 years of experience in (industry/job function)!
I’d appreciate learning from your insights and success in this industry to discover if this might be the right path for me. Would it be possible to meet for 15-20 minutes for a quick coffee? I know you’re busy, so if a phone conversation works best, let me know.
Looking forward to connecting,
– Charles Hubbard
Strategy 2: Ask acquaintances about their connections
You might be hesitant to ask for introductions from acquaintances you don’t know very well, but don’t be. Just use your best judgement. If you need to build up some rapport first, work on that before making a request. If you haven’t spoken to someone in a while but had good rapport, feel free to make the request.
Sample message to an acquaintance asking for an introduction
Hi, (contact name)
It’s been a while! I hope you’re doing well. I’m reaching out because I’m researching product marketing roles for medical software companies. (Company) is one of the places I’m researching, and I noticed you’re connected to Frank on LinkedIn who is a (job title) there. Would you’d be comfortable introducing us?
I’d love to get his opinion on what (company) is like. I can send a pre-written email if it helps make the introduction easier. Let me know your thoughts. Either way, this was a good excuse for me to catch up with you. Let’s grab lunch this week or next – my treat.
Hope to catch up soon!
– Charles Hubbard
By including a pre-written email, you make it very easy for your friend to make an introduction for you. See the next page for an example of a pre-written introduction email you could include.
Example of a pre-written email for your contact to request an introduction
Hi (name of contact)
I’d like to introduce you to (your name), who works at (company) as a (position title). (You name) is very passionate about (industry/career field) and is interested in learning more about (type of roles/department) at (company). I’ve copied him/her on this email so you can connect directly for (a short call / meeting).
I’ll let you two take it from here.
Questions to ask for an informational interview
When preparing for informational interviews, consider asking questions in the following categories to keep the discussion well-rounded and to help you gain deeper insights about the career opportunities you are researching. Keep in mind that the following questions are only suggestions. Feel free to come up with your own questions.
About the contact with whom you are speaking
- Why did this work interest you, and how did you get started?
- What motivates you to do this type of work?
- Has your experience in this career field differed very much from what you imagined it would be? How?
- What current issues and trends do you see in the field?
- What are some of the pros and cons of being in this industry?
- What do you wish you knew about this industry before you started?
- What’s it like working for (company)?
- What activities do you spend most of your time doing?
- What specific skills and personal qualities are most essential to be effective in your job?
- How would you describe the work culture at your organization?
- Are there any specific challenges or changes happening in the industry or company that are impacting your role?
- What are the biggest challenges or frustrations you’re currently facing as an organization and in your role?
- Is there anything you would like to change or improve about your role or the way the company does business?
- What do these issues cost you in terms of lost time, money, productivity, or aggravation?
- What has slowed down or prevented a resolution to these challenges?
- How well did your college experience prepare you for this job?
- Aside from schooling, how did you prepare for this work?
- Would you recommend any additional training for new professionals?
- What kind of advice do you have for someone trying to transition into this industry/occupation with no prior experience?
Advice / Feedback
- What advice do you have for someone entering the field?
- What do you wish you’d known before you got started?
- Are there other people you suggest I contact? May I use your name in contacting them?
- Are there any organizations in the area you think would be a good fit for me given my interests in xxx?”
Step 5: Expand your network
If you are unable to get introductions to your target audience, it’s time to expand your network. Expanding your network is about building relationships with people outside of your existing social circles. Here are a few ways to do that.
Strategy 1: Join professional associations
Professional associations seek to further a particular profession and the interests of individuals engaged in that profession. They are hubs of information on industry trends, professional development opportunities, and networking events. Research the most relevant professional associations for your career goals and determine if there is a local chapter in your area. If there is, consider attending a meeting to meet others in the field. Below is a list of professional associations categorized by career field to help you get started.
aicpa.org American Institute of Certified Public Accountants
aaahq.org American Accounting Association
imanet.org Institute of Management Accountants
isaca.org Previously known as Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
nsacct.org/home National Society of Accountants
na.theiia.org The Institute of Internal Auditors (North America).
Criminal Justice & Security
aca.org/aca_prod_imis/aca_member American Correctional Association
americanjail.org American Jail Association
nacoponline.org National Association of Chiefs of Police
ncja.org National Criminal Justice Association
asisonline.org Previously the American Society for Industrial Security, now just “ASIS International”
afponline.org Association for Financial Professionals
cfainstitute.org Certified Financial Analyst Institute
cfp.net Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP)
finra.org Financial Industry Regulatory Authority
fma.org Financial Management Association
nasaa.org North American Securities Administration Association
aaham.org American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management
ache.org American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
achca.memberclicks.net American College of Health Care Administrators (ACHCA)
ahima.org American Health Information Management Association
hcaa.org Health Care Administrators Association
hfma.org Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA)
himss.org Health Information Management System Society (HIMSS)
mgma.com Medical Group Management Associations
nachc.org National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC)
nabweb.org/state-licensure-requirements National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards
nhanow.com National Healthcareer Association
acm.org Association for Computing Machinery
aitp.org Association of Information Technology Professionals
comptia.org Computing Technology Industry Association
himss.org Health Information and Management Systems
issa.org Information Systems Security Association
isc2.org Information Systems Security Certification Consortium
ieee.org Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
npanet.org Network Professional Association (NPA)
nursingcertification.org American Board of Nursing Specialties
ahcancal.org/Pages/Default.aspx American Health Care Association (AHCA)
nursingworld.org American Nurses Association
apha.org American Public Health Association
nursecredentialing.org/default.aspx American Nurse Credentialing Center
aanp.org American Association of Nurse Practitioners
ncsbn.org/index.htm National Council of State Boards of Nursing
nsna.org National Student Nurses Association
nln.org National League for Nursing
pneg.org Professional Nurse Educators Group
aone.org American Organization of Nurse Executives
aha.org American Hospital Association
Counseling / Psychology / Social Work
counseling.org American Counseling Association
apa.org American Psychological Association
siop.org Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc.
aamft.org American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
naadac.org Association for Addiction Professionals
naatp.org National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers
socialworkers.org National Association of Social Workers
Strategy 2: Participate in networking groups, events, or volunteering activities
Look for groups and events focused on your professional interests or get involved in volunteer opportunities, including serving on nonprofit Boards of Directors to gain leadership skills in addition to new contacts. Here are several resources to help you find opportunities for getting involved in events, gatherings, and volunteer opportunities that relate to your interests.
- Meetup.com (Networking groups)
- Eventbrite.com (Event finder)
- Leanincircles.org (Aimed at women, but open to all)
- Idealist.org (Volunteer + job opportunities)
- GuideStar.org (Nonprofit directory)
- Charitynavigator.org (Nonprofit directory)
- Volunteermatch.org (Local + virtual volunteering)
- Onlinevolunteering.org (Virtual volunteering for U.N.)
- Catchafire.org (Skills-based volunteering)
- Casaforchildren.org (Court Appointed Special Advocate)
Strategy 3: Expand your network on LinkedIn®
Although interacting with people in face-to-face scenarios is the most effective way to expand your network, you can also find and connect with people through your online social networks. LinkedIn® is the best place to do that, however, you will need an account.
When requesting informational interviews with people you don’t know, keep your messages brief and request no more than 15 to 20 minutes of their time. Emphasize any interests you share in common to increase the likelihood of getting a response. Here are a few methods for getting started with your outreach.
Alumni are great to reach out to because you share an instant connection. You can use LinkedIn’s advanced search filters to find alumni in your target market or visit the alumni page to search by keyword, job title, company, or location: www.linkedin.com/school/university-of-phoenix/people/. You can reach out by sending a peronalized invitation to connect, however your message will be limited to 300 characters. Below is an example of a short message to help you request an informational interview.
Sample invitation to connect with alumni (less than 300 characters)
I’m a UOPX (student/alum) researching (industry/job function) careers, which drew me to your profile. I’m impressed by your career journey and would love to connect. Might you be open to a brief chat? Your perspective may help to clarify my own career path.
Connect with your target audience
Search for people in your target market and reach out directly to request an informational interview. You can do this by searching for LinkedIn® groups relevant to your professional interests or by using the advanced search filters to target specific profiles.
To find groups, place your cursor in the search box, select groups, and conduct a keyword search (see image below). Once you join a group, members of that group can message each other directly, giving you lots of opportunities to reach out and request informational interviews.
Sample message to fellow group member
I’m a fellow member of the (group name) group, which is how I came across your profile. I was impressed by your career background in (industry/job function), as I’m considering a similar career path. I’d love to chat with someone so experienced and knowledgeable such as yourself. Your perspective would really help me shed some light on where I decide to go next in my career. Would you be open to chat sometime?
Looking forward to connecting!
To search profiles, place your cursor in the search box and select people. Next, select all filters (see images below) to search for people by location, industries, current company, past company, job title, etc. This will produce a list of results based on your search parameters. LinkedIn® restricts the number of profile searches you can perform in a given month, but this resets at the beginning of each month. Click the following link to learn more about commercial use limits.
Sample invitation to connect with a new contact (less than 300 characters)
I came across your profile while researching (industry/company). I was really impressed with your background and would love to connect. Might you be open to a brief 15-minute chat? Your perspective on the (industry) industry may help to clarify my own career path.
Step 6: Maintain and strengthen relationships
The last part of your networking plan is to maintain and strengthen your relationships. It is important to keep up with whom you have spoken and what you have said, as well as when to follow up with them. It can be difficult to manage multiple relationships, so use this table to help stay organized or feel free to use a calendar to schedule regular check-ins.
Name of person
Method of contact (phone/in person/email)
What we discussed
Date we spoke
Date to follow up
Strategies for follow up
Strategy 1: Send a thank you note
After an informational interview, send a thank you note within 24-48 hours. If the meeting went well, try to get their commitment to a future meeting by saying something like: “The next time I’m in your area, I’d love to get on your calendar and buy you lunch” or “You have been so helpful, would you mind if I keep in touch?” This will keep the door open to a potential meeting in the future. Also, be sure to get their contact information and connect on LinkedIn so you don’t lose the connection.
Sample invitation to connect with a new contact (less than 300 characters)
It was great talking with you yesterday about how you got your start in (industry/role). Your advice was very helpful, and I wanted you to know how much I appreciated our conversation. I am continuing to investigate (industry/company/roles), so if you think of other professionals who I should speak with, I would be most appreciative of any referrals you could provide. The next time I’m in your area, I’d love to get on your calendar and buy you lunch.
Strategy 2: Add value
Two or three weeks after you’ve sent your thank you message, do something that adds value to the relationship. Examples include:
- Send a link to an insightful business article
- Introduce them to a business contact
- Share your expertise if it can help
- Write an unsolicited LinkedIn recommendation
- Like, share, and comment on their posts
- Take them to lunch or coffee
- Offer your help where appropriate
- Provide feedback on a project of theirs
- Suggest a good book or movie
- Refer new customers to their business
Sharing information that’s relevant to your contact’s personal or professional interests adds value to the relationship because it shows that you are thinking about the other person.
Strategy 3: Send updates
People who have helped you in your career by referring you to contacts or agreeing to speak with you deserve to know how they’ve helped. Send them an update on what you’ve been up to and how their support has helped. Not only will your update show that you appreciate their efforts, but also strengthen the relationship.
As you can see from these follow-up strategies, the purpose is to nurture the relationship within a time frame that won’t cause you to be forgotten, but not so quickly that you become a nuisance. Use your best judgement. It is more important to follow the spirit of strategic networking than to merely go through the mechanics. Happy networking!