By Alexis Grant

Tips for building your professional network in the digital era

Combining old-school networking strategies with new-media opportunities is a great way to increase the effectiveness of your job search. Yet this doesn't come naturally to all job seekers. Some struggle to use the Internet and social media for their search, while others rely too heavily on the digital world, replacing vital in-person networking with Twitter chats and LinkedIn connections.

"It has to be a combination of the two," says Jodi Glickman, communications expert and author of Great on the Job. "Because one or the other, they don't suffice anymore on their own. There's only so far that a social media connection will take you. And vice versa, in today's digital world, you're a little behind the eight ball if you don't interact [online]."

So how should you mesh those two worlds?

Here are a few ideas for how to play in-person and online efforts off one another:

Whenever you meet someone, look them up on your social networks.

We often remember to follow up after networking or professional events, but what about when you meet someone on the bus or at your son's soccer game? Whether or not you send a nice-to-meet-you email, find that person on networks you're active on -- likely LinkedIn and Twitter for professional contacts, and Facebook if the person falls into more of a friend category. Not only will this make it easy for you to find that person when you want to, you'll also receive their updates, which means you'll be more likely to recognize opportunities to help them and think of them when they can help you. Tools like Gmail plug-ins Rapportive and Gist can help you find where people who email you live online.

[See 9 Companies Hiring Now.]

Don't forget about the power of in-person connections.

Sometimes we're so busy tending to our smart phones that we forget to pay attention to the person in front of us -- and that person could be a valuable connection. St. Louis resident Justin Coleman found himself chatting with a stranger on a long cab ride only to learn that like him, she worked in sales -- but in a more powerful position. When Coleman's job was eliminated unexpectedly a month later, he called his cab-ride contact to ask whether she knew of any openings. A week later, he was interviewing for a position with her company. "[My wife always says], you'll talk to anybody," says Coleman, 28. "[But] you'd be surprised the interesting people you meet in a cab or at the airport, [and job-seeking] is all about the people you know."

Recognize you may need a digital footprint to score an in-person meeting.

Most companies now check out candidates online before scheduling an interview, says Rob McGovern, CEO of Jobfox and founder of Careerbuilder. "People are really sizing each other up in advance of a meeting." That means it can pay off to monitor your online presence even if you expect to have plenty of in-person opportunities.

Use online tools to find in-person events.

Try to find events based on your professional interests, hobbies, or skills. Look for happy hours and other mingling opportunities related not only to your work, but also to your personal interests; you may meet someone who helps you turn that hobby into a career. Twitter can also be a resource for discovering meetings, called tweetups, of people who share interests. And some LinkedIn groups that center around a geographical location hold luncheons or after-work events. If you're active online and open to these opportunities, they may even find you.

[See Latest in Career Networking: Network Roulette.]

Hand out your business card.

No, the business card is not yet obsolete. Plenty of high-powered people aren't yet on LinkedIn, and even if they are, they're not likely to remember your name unless you give them your card. To show your digital side, include your Twitter handle on your card or add a QR code to the back. (Don't use a QR-code-only card because not everyone will know what it means or what to do with it.) When someone hands you their card, write a note to yourself on the back after you've parted ways to remind yourself who the person is.

Bring your Twitter connections offline.

Take online relationships a step further by making the effort to meet your Twitter friends in person. If you connect with someone who lives near you, suggest a one-on-one over coffee or brunch to discuss your common interests. A contact who has met you in person is more likely to go out of their way to recommend you for opportunities, Glickman says. "[Meeting in person creates] a whole new level of intimacy, in the sense that you feel like you really know someone and you'd be willing to go out on a limb and do them a favor."

[See How to Position Yourself to Change Careers.]

Ask how you can help.

"[When networking,] our first instinct as human beings is to think, what's in it for me? But we have to turn the tables and think, what it's in it for them?" says Laura Labovich, a career strategist who lives in Washington, D.C. One great way to help a contact -- which may make them inclined to return the favor down the road -- is to introduce them to someone you know who has influence in their field, needs their skills, or knows someone who does. Even if you first got to know each other in person, it's often easy to offer an introduction or another favor online.


Available at Great on the Job


Careers - How to Mesh In-Person and Online Networking

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