There's a reason people say "it's all about who you know" when it comes to your career: Networking really has its perks. Whether they're giving you a job recommendation, introducing you to a potential client or just giving some valuable career advice, your professional contacts can make all the difference in helping you achieve your goals. But favors don't come for free — if you want someone to help you out, you need to build up your social capital first.
What is social capital? This sociological concept treats interpersonal connections as an asset, such as property or education. Like other types of assets, your professional network can be valuable to you, but if you want to cash in on that value, you need to put in the work. Lisa Carver, managing director of The Execu|Search Group recruitment firm, said the key to cultivating social capital is building strong, genuine relationships with your contacts.
"You shouldn't only reach out to your network when you need something," Carver told Business News Daily. "Whether it is through email or a monthly phone call to catch up, find a reason to maintain consistent contact with them. Being thoughtful and considerate will help you earn their respect, which will, in turn, give you the right to ask for favors or assistance." [5 Tips for Building a Solid Professional Network]
Before you ask a contact for help, make sure you've followed these six steps from Execu|Search:
Connect on LinkedIn. When you meet potential professional connections, your first step should be to add them as LinkedIn connections (or invite them to join if they haven't yet) with a personalized message. When you do so, LinkedIn will send you email updates about your new connection, including anniversaries, career changes and promotions, which can translate into an opportunity to reconnect with the contact in the future.
Take advantage of special milestones. Once you receive these updates, be sure to use them to their full potential. If your contact receives a promotion, for example, send a congratulatory message. This also applies to holidays, birthdays, and other events and milestones. Sending an email or calling to say congrats can go a long way and spark some conversation. Follow your contacts' career, and never dismiss someone who makes a move that doesn't seem relevant to you anymore.
Send your connections relevant articles. When you come acrosssomething interesting that you think a particular connection would enjoy reading or benefit from in some way, send it over. This is one of the easiest ways to start conversing, and it also shows that you have that person and his or her interests in mind.
Keep in touch regarding industry news. There is no better reason to reach out than to discuss the latest advances in your industry and what they mean for your careers. Even an email to ask if your contact has heard of the latest industry news can be a great conversation starter.
Invite a contact or two to professional events. Going to a networking event? Bring one — or several — of your current contacts. They may notice something or someone you don't, and if they make a great connection as a result of your invite, they'll be sure to keep you in mind for the future as well.
- Ask to catch up. If it's been a while since you've spoken to a contact, don't wait until you need something to get in touch. Reach out and simply say you haven't spoken in a while and you'd like to reconnect. In most cases, your contacts should be receptive to this and appreciate the honesty.
When you do need to ask for a favor, the best way to do it is to be brief, direct and clear about it.
"Once [a professional] relationship has been built on mutual respect and trust, the best way to go about asking for a business favor is to be specific about your request," Carver said. "Time is a big commodity, so remember to respect their time and quickly get to your point. Once you've asked for the favor, make sure that you don't only express self-interest. Try and balance the business favor with your personal relationship by asking how the contact is doing or asking about an important project you knew they were working on. This will come across as much more genuine if you are able to maintain regular contact with them."
Originally published on Business News Daily.