Networking may not be at the top of your to-do list, but it can be key to employment growth and success.  Whether you are looking to climb the corporate ladder, find a new job, or simply broaden your skillset, networking builds long term relationships with other professionals that are willing and ready to help you along your journey.  A survey by LinkedIn revealed that a staggering 85% of all jobs are filled via networking.  When done well, networking will not only open doors to new job opportunities, but it will give you a competitive edge throughout every phase of your career.

Here are a few reasons why networking is an integral part of your employment success, and what you can do to improve your networking skills?

Put yourself out there

There are many approaches to networking, but one of the most powerful is engaging in face-to-face interaction.  68% of junior level professionals value in person meetings over online networking, demonstrating that putting a face with a name goes a long way.  There are many resources available that can assist in establishing connections.  Attending conferences and events opens the door to meeting like-minded professionals and gaining a wealth of useful information.  Signing up for services, such as Meetup, allows you to join local interest groups and receive notifications regarding regular networking events, keeping your calendar overflowing with opportunity.

Grow your funnel through a calculated approach

It is great to meet a plethora of new people, but you want to make sure that you are utilizing your time to meet the right people.  Take a step back and contemplate where you want to be within five years and how you envision reaching your objective.  A clearly defined set of goals can help you successfully work toward your vision.  Your strategy should include identifying a list of target contacts who align with your plan.  Do not leave anything up to chance, prioritize meet-and-greets with professionals who can benefit your long-term plan.  Keep in mind that it is not necessary to only engage with people in your industry; thinking outside of the box will allow you to meet prospects who can offer valuable, diverse insight that you might have otherwise missed.

Get the max out of social media

Social media is the most accessible networking opportunity available, giving you twenty-four-hour access to an infinite amount of leads.  Thousands of industry-specific communities have popped up on LinkedIn and Facebook, making it easy to zero in on quality networking opportunities and make a large amount of connections, all at once.

If you are limited on time, exploring forums where you can ask questions, engage in casual conversation, or organize coffee or lunch meetings is a quick way to maximize your time.  When establishing online contact, make sure to thoughtfully compile your responses in a professional and polite manner and proofread all content before hitting send.  You want to put your best foot forward and a quick reread can help you avoid small mistakes that make you appear less professional.

Sharing informative content or utilizing trending hashtags in social media posts can increase your traffic and allow people to gain insight into your interests and expertise.  Regular postings allow you to develop an online persona and make your followers feel more personally connected to you.  Remember to continue engaging and interacting with your contacts as this will strengthen your relationship and build credibility.

Always follow-up

I am sure that you have heard: “strike while the iron is hot.”  This needs to be your new networking mantra.  All too often, great contact is established at an event and parties leave with a promise to touch base, but the follow-up never happens and the relationship grows cold.  Networking events allow you to plant a seed, but to see true growth, you have to follow up.  If you have a great interaction with a contact, do not hesitate to reach out with a phone call, email, or though social media to ask for a follow up coffee break or lunch.  These extra steps show that you are truly engaged and that you have a continued interest in developing a mutually beneficial relationship.

Silence is not golden

According to Forbes, 23% of CFOs recognize that failing to keep in touch or reaching out only when something is needed, is the biggest networking mistake that executives make.  It is all too easy to put relationship building at the bottom of the priority list.  However, building and strengthening your network requires ensuring that you are regularly reaching out to contacts, fostering a strong, reciprocal bond.  It is simply a waste to devote time and effort to developing great contacts only to miss out on beneficial opportunities by neglecting to send quick messages or emails.