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I Don't Know Any Professionals! How Do I Network?

By John R. Platt

You've heard that old adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know." That's a simple way of saying that many people succeed based solely on the quality of the names in their address books. But while there is some truth to the adage, it leaves out many realities of job-hunting, especially for people first entering the job market.

First off, let's back up. Why do you need a network? A network can serve many purposes: it can serve as a support group, a source of information, a source of job leads, and as a source of actual business. Your network is your family, your expert sources, your connections to potential employers, and the people with whom you do business.

Now let's go back to that assumption that you don't know anyone professional. Are you sure about that? Maybe you don't have any close personal friends who are already professionals, but you will soon. Even now, you already know many people who are skilled in the ways of the work force, and who can help you get a good start.

* Your parents and relatives. They might not be able to help you directly (nepotism is a terrible way to start a career), but they might know people who can help you. Ask for introductions.

* Your neighbors. You've grown up next to these people for years, and that kindly Mr. Rogers down the street could help you get into television if you talk to him.

* Your teachers and professors. Educators get besieged by requests for recommendations, but if you have a good relationship with any of them, build upon it. Also, think about guest speakers or lecturers you may have heard while you were in school. Write them and see if they write back.

* Old bosses from part-time jobs. If you worked a dead-end job in high-school or college, you may be surprised to find out how and where your old boss has moved on. Keep in touch.

* The people you interview with, even if you don't get the job. Keep in touch. They might think of you later.

* Your friends getting into the job market. Now is the time to get in touch and turn those college friendships into a professional network. Because, as they climb, you'll both find opportunities to help each other.

You can also generate new professional contacts online and in your community. If you read about someone who sounds interesting, reach out and make contact. Show that you've got a good mind and a good personality. You never know where that will go.

The real work begins once you get started in the job force. The best professional contacts will probably be developed in the context of your job. Maintain good records of who you meet, the context in which you met them, and what they do. Find reasons to keep in touch with the best of them. Join a professional social networking site like LinkedIn to help maintain your network, and maybe even to show it off.

Your network will serve different purposes throughout your professional life. It will also change over time. Your network will build, and be refined, and sometimes break down. But it may also be the lifeblood of your career.

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