How To Build a Professional Network, According to Someone Who Networks for a Living

July 13, 2021

Networking is my full-time job.

No, really—I build and maintain our executive networks at OpenView. It’s my job to make sure we know the right people across all different facets.

I’m lucky to be in this position because I genuinely like people and hearing their stories. I prefer to listen rather than do the talking myself. I enjoy figuring out ways I can help someone, whether that’s introducing them to a connection they may not know, or featuring them in a piece of content that helps them build their brand.

I approach my job with a people-first mindset, and it has never been about what someone can do for me or OpenView—it’s all about how I can help them. For this reason, I’ve been able to build an incredibly strong professional network that I know I can lean on if and when I need to.

People often ask me for networking tips, but I think what they should be asking instead is, “How do I build a professional network that will go to bat for me?” Here’s my best advice for doing just that:

1. Focus your outreach

Don’t just build for the sake of building—build with purpose. Know who your targets are, and be able to articulate exactly why you’re interested in connecting with them. Is it because of a career transition they’ve made? Their career path? Know your why.

2. Be genuine

This might seem like a no-brainer, but this is where so many people get networking wrong. Get to know the person because you’re interested in them as a human being and want to know their story—not because it’s cool to say you know them.

3. Don’t force a relationship

You’re not going to click with everybody you talk to, and that’s okay. Think of it this way: If you had a sup-bar date with somebody, you probably wouldn’t keep dating them, would you? Same goes for any kind of relationship—professional ones included. If you’re not connecting with someone, let it go and move on.

4. Relationships are a two-way street

While you might be leveraging your network to move forward in your career, you should also make sure you’re offering support in return. Ask your network how you can be helpful. Is there an introduction you could make for them? Content they could be featured in at your company? Promoting something they’ve posted on LinkedIn? Reciprocate the support you receive.

5. Pay it forward

If you’ve spent time building your network and someone reaches out to ask about connecting with you, make time for it.

6. Keep in touch

Don’t wait six months to talk to someone after you’ve had a great conversation—that’s just not a sustainable way to create connections. Shoot them a check-in note every month, or every other month, depending on your schedule. Have a call, buy them coffee. Stay in touch.

Bonus: Using a professional network to advance your career

Once you’ve built strong relationships with people in your network, the rest is a natural progression. If you’re struggling with a challenge in your current job situation, your network is a perfect place to go for unbiased, outside perspective and advice on how to remedy the situation.

Your network will keep an eye out for career opportunities for you. If you’ve built genuine connections with people, when they see a job that reminds them of you, they’ll let you know. You might not be interested in a new role, but what if you are?

Leverage your network as references when applying for a new role. Ask what they think about where you are and where you should be as it relates to your career. These folks are most likely not part of your company, so they can offer you an unbiased perspective. It might not be what you want to hear (or it might be!), but isn’t that why you’ve built this group?

More from Casey Renner

If you’re not following Casey on LinkedIn, you’re missing her fantastic #WeeklyWalk videos.

Partner at OpenView

Casey leads the end-to-end strategy & programming for OpenView’s network of industry experts, advisors & corporate partners. Her role is focused on creating connections between founders & their teams and the partners, advisors, board members & events they need to reach their goals. Additionally, she manages the OpenView portfolio peer networks and hosts the #WeeklyWalk series.