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When most people hear the phrase "professional networking," they tend to think of black ties, handshakes, and small talk. And\ while mastering the dance of in-person networking events can still do excellent things for your career trajectory, the vast majority of networking in 2024 will happen online.
On the one hand, this means that a well-built professional network can reach exponentially more contacts than you could ever make with handshakes alone. On the other, online networking presents challenges of its own, such as how to effectively convey your personality and skill without ever meeting a person face-to-face (especially when 68% of people prefer in-person networking).
To help you overcome those challenges, we've put together a comprehensive guide about networking in the new year. Regardless of whether you're about to start a job search or want to take your career to the next level, we'll set you on the path to make connections that matter.
Crafting a Personal Networking Strategy
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to networking, so what works best for you will depend on the type of career you have, what stage of your career path you're at, and your overall personality. That said, there are some tried-and-true steps you can take to build a networking plan that turns heads.
Identify your networking goals
Before doing anything else, you should take the time to sit down and establish a clear list of goals you want to achieve in 2024. These will be specific to you, but some of the most common networking goals we encounter during our coaching sessions are:
- Gaining more recognition from peers.
- Making more professional contacts.
- Building relationships with current or potential employers.
- Finding opportunities for career growth.
- Improving skills and experience.
- Staying informed about industry events and trends.
- Preparing yourself for new career opportunities.
By working out this list ahead of time, you can tailor your efforts in a way that gets you the most results for the time invested.
Develop a personal brand
The world of online professional networking is flooded with talented, passionate people looking to build connections and stand out from the crowd. That's why, outside of showcasing your professional capabilities, it's also crucial to develop a strong personal brand.
This is a delicate process and one that you can spend years perfecting, but the basic path to creating an effective personal brand boils down to two things:
Establish who you are
Before you can communicate your value to the world, you must first establish who you are and what that value is. This takes self-reflection and intellectual honesty but can be one of the most transformative processes you'll ever experience as a professional.
At its most basic, deciding what you want your personal brand to be can be as simple as sitting down with a journal or laptop and writing down your values, goals, passions, and strengths. Sometimes, this kind of introspection is difficult to do alone, so outside tools, such as a personalized career test, can help provide insights.
Communicate your worth
Once you've established who you are, it's time to learn how to express that information as effectively as possible. This means building a "brand vocabulary" of terms and phrases that describe your experience and skills in an exciting, engaging way. In addition to giving you a consistent voice while networking, this kind of language can also be leveraged to improve your resume, cover letter, or performance during interviews.
If you're struggling to figure out what language best describes you, consider looking at how your mentors or leaders in your field speak about their work. Often, this can spark the beginnings of your own professional lexicon.
Follow industry leaders
One of the most valuable benefits of online networking is the ability to get a glimpse into the lives of trendsetters, CEOs, and thought leaders in your field. Regardless of where you are along your career path, connecting with and tracking these figures offers you the opportunity to see what works at the highest levels—and then adapt your own efforts accordingly.
In ideal circumstances, these connections can eventually evolve into a back-and-forth that sets you apart from other job seekers and ladder climbers like you, allowing you to get a foot in the door with the company of your dreams.
How to Use Digital Platforms for Networking
Although many would argue that the most effective types of networking occur in person, digital platforms provide the greatest access to the greatest number of connections, making them an excellent investment for those looking to branch out.
Even better, the virtual connections you make often translate into in-person connections with the right strategy, so learning to master digital platforms is a must for professionals in 2024.
Leverage social media and professional networks
Social media can be one of the most valuable networking resources you have—so long as you know how to wield it properly. Whether it's LinkedIn, X, or even an industry-specific network, such as Gust Launch for startups, staying active on these platforms gives you two-way exposure to everything your industry has to offer.
Remember, however, to avoid the "echo chamber" effect at all costs; by following and interacting with people who have competing views and thoughts, you give yourself greater opportunities to grow as a professional. If you aren't being challenged by your connections, you likely aren't connected to the right people.
Join group chat networks
Between applications like Slack, Discord, or even something as casual as an industry-specific sub-Reddit, finding online forums where professionals network and share ideas is easier than ever. It's perfectly common for a networking connection from another platform to invite you into a private industry chat once you've put enough time and effort into the relationship—especially if you reach out and simply ask.
Participate in virtual events and webinars
Another key element of digital networking platforms is the ability to quickly and easily participate in virtual events, such as webinars. Often, platforms will notify you of relevant events and facilitate easy signup, allowing you to quickly and reliably learn new skills, interact with industry leaders (who often present during these events), and find similarly driven individuals in your field.
Building and Maintaining Meaningful Connections
Professional networking refers to more than just clicking "connect" on your digital platform of choice. If you want to make the most of your efforts, you need to put in the time to deepen the relationships you make with other professionals in your network.
Creating value in professional relationships
By far, one of the most effective ways to build strong professional relationships is to offer your time or expertise without expecting anything in return. Now, mind you, this doesn't mean you won't get anything in return; it just means you should avoid thinking of networking as a strictly transactional relationship.
For most, these offerings can be as simple as sharing a post, contributing to community threads about a subject in which you have experience, or showing support when someone in your network has a professional victory. By doing this earnestly and regularly, you establish yourself as a generous, high-value connection that people want to have.
Follow-up strategies and relationship nurturing
At its core, following up is all about consistency. The more consistent you are—both in how you present yourself and how often you engage with your network—the more likely you are to develop connections that provide true growth opportunities.
The good news is that if you do this part right, then reaching out for a favor, such as a recommendation or informational interview, is much more likely to be met with an enthusiastic yes.
When you do reach out, make sure that it's always framed as a request, not a demand. No matter how much value you've offered to your network, acting as though you're "owed" something is a surefire way to damage relationships and your personal brand. Instead, use professional, reasonable language and trust that you've built up enough goodwill to merit some effort from those in your network.
Overcoming Networking Challenges
To the uninitiated and experienced professionals alike, networking in the 21st century can seem like an elusive, ever-changing animal; look away for just a second, and a third of your connections have migrated to some new discussion topic or digital platform.
This mercurial nature is only one of several common networking challenges, but a little understanding goes a long way in helping you network with confidence.
Addressing networking fears and doubts
Imposter syndrome and self-doubt are constant specters in the professional world, and in no place are they more common than when it comes to networking. As you prepare to reach out to CEOs, established experts, or even other professionals at your level, remember that all of them were exactly where you are at some point along their career paths.
So long as you approach networking without any unreasonable expectations for the people with whom you connect, the vast majority of professionals will be more than happy to shake a new hand.
Adapting to diverse networking environments
At first glance, a diverse or unfamiliar networking environment can feel intimidating, but this atmosphere is actually one of your greatest opportunities for professional growth. By approaching an unfamiliar space with an open mind and a genuine desire to learn, you give yourself a chance to expand your understanding and perspective—whether in regard to technical skills, valuable tools, or ways to think about your craft in general.
Remember that adaptation is a future-proof skill that can aid you in almost any professional situation. Rather than thinking of it as being "forced" to adapt, try to go into the experience willingly and enthusiastically.
Measuring Networking Success in 2024
As you progress through your networking journey, you'll doubtless want ways to keep track of what's working and what isn't. For that, there are two things to keep in mind.
Evaluating the impact of networking efforts
At the beginning of this article, we spoke about the importance of writing down clear, actionable goals when setting out to network. A key reason for that is to help you evaluate the impact of your networking efforts later on.
At set intervals of your choice along your career path (whether that's monthly, quarterly, or yearly), check back with that list of goals and see whether you've accomplished the things you'd hoped to when you began the process.
As an added bonus, this kind of reflection affords you the opportunity to reevaluate your goals and update them based on what you've learned.
Adapting and refining networking approaches
Refining your approach to networking comes down to three things: self-reflection, feedback, and flexibility.
For the first, all you need is a dose of intellectual honesty and an hour of downtime. Reflect on your networking goals, how your career has developed since you began networking, and which approaches haven't worked quite as well as you'd hoped. By developing the ability to see your weaknesses clearly and without shame, you turn them into opportunities to become a more established, competent professional.
For feedback, knowing how to ask is equally important as knowing who to ask. In 2024, avoid asking for nonspecific feedback. Instead, use the results of your self-reflection to ask for feedback regarding specific, high-value topics. Also, remember that the best feedback doesn't always come from where you'd expect: honest, invested feedback from a peer can often prove more valuable than disinterested commentary from an industry leader.
Finally, flexibility is the key to turning both reflection and feedback into action. By leaving yourself open to respond to all feedback—regardless of how well it fits with your preconceived notions—you give yourself the greatest chances for growth and success.
The Evolving Landscape of Professional Networking
In previous generations, networking was, more or less, about finding a way into the right rooms. With the advent of professional social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, the "right room" is essentially everywhere.
Today, the challenge has become figuring out how to stand out in a room packed with millions of people. In order to do so, you first have to understand how the networking landscape has evolved over the past decade—and continues to change today.
How networking trends are shifting in 2024
Beyond the basics of how networking happens in 2024, there are also ongoing changes as to what peers and potential employers are looking for when they choose to connect. Now, hard skills and experience will always be useful qualities to communicate within your network, but the social media-driven nature of modern networking means that people are looking to engage on a more personal level, as well.
This may seem counterintuitive to more veteran professionals or those with a hard line between their personal and professional lives, but it is actually an opportunity to further refine and strengthen your professional associations.
More specifically, embracing online professional networking allows you to cast a broader net and reach more people. From there, you can narrow down the most valuable or engaging connections, focus on giving them more of your time and energy, and eventually work toward an in-person meeting that allows you to bring your career to new heights.
Focus on quality connections, not just quantity
When thinking about what makes professional networking important in terms of career growth, it's easy to limit it to meeting new people—but that would be a mistake. Yes, making new connections can mean better job opportunities, but modern networking is much more than that.
As you go about constructing or expanding your network, make sure you devote time to maintaining professional relationships once they've been made rather than connecting with a person once and then moving on to the next. While this may seem time-intensive, maintaining a professional relationship can be as simple as liking or commenting on a connection's post, sending a quick message about shared interests, or tagging them on an article or video you think would be valuable for their development.
In return, these connections will often do the same for you, thereby giving you opportunities to expand your skills and form mutually beneficial relationships within a broader professional ecosystem.
The role of networking in career development
With the overwhelming amount of technological advances, trend reports, and information, in general, being funneled to us each day, it can seem all but impossible to stay informed about everything going on in your field—much less sort that information by what matters most.
In that way, a strong professional network serves as a sort of filter. By paying attention to the tools, trends, and topics being talked about most by other professionals and leaders in your industry, you can focus your attention on the most relevant, up-to-date information possible. By doing so, you can work on developing the most valuable skills for someone in your field, stay on top of job openings at a dream company, or even see what competitors are doing.
Make JobTest.org Your Best Connection
Networking is a difficult, ongoing challenge for even the most experienced professionals, but having support you can rely on makes navigating the process infinitely easier. Whether you want help developing your personal brand and professional vocabulary, building the confidence to put imposter syndrome in its place, or turning connections into job offers, JobTest.org can help.
With our personalized, AI-driven career test, we'll help you map out everything from your work values to the specific roles that suit you best. Then, you'll have the option to match with one of our dedicated career coaches for the one-on-one sessions you need to take your career to the next level. The new year is here: let's make your networking resolutions a reality.