Networking Tips for Business Executives: How to Build Genuine Connections and a Strong Professional Network
Published on: September 11, 2023
It’s common knowledge that networking is a vital component of any professional journey, yet many people neglect to dedicate even a modicum of time or effort to this essential pursuit. This absence of strategic networking can have huge consequences over time, resulting not only in lost job opportunities but also, a variety of concerns that can be difficult to quantify.
Simply put, a strong network makes your career feel more meaningful and more satisfying, especially as your professional circle begins to feel more like an extended family.
As an executive, you will come to depend on networking to build connections with the most influential individuals. This is how you gain an edge while seeking the most in-demand roles.
In a sea of applicants, knowing the right people really does make a difference. It also makes a difference after scoring a great job — only through developing strong connections and a genuine rapport can you hope to make real progress toward ambitious organizational objectives.
The “why” of networking may seem obvious, but the “how” is a common sticking point — especially for busy executives who may have limited time to dedicate to networking luncheons and other events. Thankfully, there are many ways to boost your networking strategy, as we highlight below.
How to Build a Strong Professional Network
Networking is a far-reaching pursuit that should play into literally everything you do as a professional. This is especially true in the executive world, where your success is built around the connections you make and maintain. To that end, your efforts to build a professional network should be far-reaching.
Remember: there is no one way to build a strong network. This is a nuanced pursuit that largely depends on your personal strengths as a communicator and leader, not to mention the realities of your work environment and how this unique setting facilitates (or fails to facilitate) impactful interactions.
In general, a layered approach is preferable, as this allows you to build rapport through multiple mediums and with a variety of individuals.
No matter what your preferred strategies are, your efforts to build your network must be goal-driven and carefully planned. Without such accountability, you risk settling for the networking status quo and failing to build critical connections.
Importance of a Network as an Executive
As you determine how you’ll build your network, don’t forget your “why.” This will differ slightly from one executive to the next, depending in part on the specific role you play in management or leadership — not to mention the leadership style you want to cultivate. For example, networking for a transformational leader may look a lot different than transactional or authoritative outreach.
We’ve touched on a few of the most compelling benefits already, but the value of your network should extend to both professional and personal pursuits.
Professionally, this is a necessity for moving up and for influencing your team. What’s more, ongoing networking efforts should boost your communication skills and empathy — both of which are among the most critical soft skills in modern management.
On a personal level, successful networking makes you feel more confident and connected. This, in turn, could improve your satisfaction as an executive and in your personal life.
Professional Tips and Tricks
While some professionals show a natural predilection for networking, most will need to continually work at it. Ideally, your development will begin early on. The more practice you obtain through the years, the better.
College can be a great time to build networking skills, as you enjoy numerous opportunities to connect with instructors or fellow students on a more personal level. It’s never too late to improve these skills, however — especially if you implement these essential networking tips and tricks:
Connect With Executives
If you aspire to reach the executive level but aren’t there yet, purposeful relationships with current business executives can certainly help. Many people in leadership positions enjoy acting as mentors and will be happy to lend a hand if you put forth the initiative to reach out.
Sincerity can go a long way, so cut to the chase and let current executives know what you want and how they can help. Many can provide both career and networking advice — and you might even receive introductions to other influential individuals from your executive mentor’s inner circle.
Social Media Presence
A strong social media presence is non-negotiable for modern networking. This means not only developing a profile on LinkedIn but also using this and other platforms regularly to interact with a variety of contacts.
Direct messages are preferable, but you can also get involved in relevant groups. These range from alumni associations to discussions involving locally based, like-minded professionals.
To begin, choose an excellent profile picture that conveys both your personality and professionalism. Beyond this, regular updates will ensure that you remain relevant. Share content you find compelling, especially if you think it will likely be of genuine value to your friends and followers.
Speak at Conferences and Events
Industry conferences are among the most popular networking opportunities and for good reason: where else do so many people dedicated to the same niche gather for the primary purpose of learning and interacting?
Data from Goodman Lantern confirms that conferences are a networking powerhouse: nearly 70 percent of respondents believe that these events deliver “a wealth of networking opportunities.”
Simply attending a few of these events can make a world of difference, but you’ll get a lot more out of the experience if you go beyond acting as a passive participant. Instead, get involved by speaking or presenting on topics of interest. Don’t be surprised if you receive an influx of networking emails after a successful presentation.
Webinars introduce you to a variety of ideas and concepts that you might otherwise never explore. They are also underrated vehicles for networking, particularly if you sign up for programs designed to spark conversation.
Many of these virtual events incorporate live chats where you can discuss the ideas being presented with other attendees. Some platforms also offer opportunities to exchange digital business cards or connect via social walls or event feeds. If nothing else, send attendees direct messages to get the conversation started.
At the Office Tips
Many people make the mistake of assuming that networking strictly occurs after work hours. Yes, social media, conferences and even happy hour can be valuable opportunities, but the connections you make during the workday can be just as impactful.
This means taking the occasional break at work to acknowledge those who surround you, both in physical and virtual spaces.
Interact and Connect With Employees
How often do you actually interact with employees when you aren’t discussing a specific professional task or initiative? Do you make an effort to avoid small talk? If so, you could be missing out on a valuable chance to make your existing professional network richer and more dynamic.
The cliche of the water cooler chat exists for a reason. Try to bring this oft-forgotten feeling of community back to the workplace whenever or wherever it makes sense. You will be rewarded with meaningful professional relationships that you look forward to cultivating further.
Remember, networking isn’t just about quantity: a few quality relationships can easily outweigh dozens of shallow or downright forgettable connections.
Don’t be discouraged by perceived limitations, as these are often easier to overcome than you assume. For example, meaningful interaction remains possible when dealing with remote employees. Set up a Zoom chat or exchange lighthearted messages via Slack. It’ll take more time, but you can still build the relationships that matter.
Greet Current and New Employees
A simple “hello” can go a long way, especially if accompanied by a smile. Build friendly greetings into your daily routine, even for employees who primarily work on a remote basis. If you don’t already know the names of all your coworkers, make a more vigorous effort to learn them to ensure that your greetings feel extra warm and welcoming.
Greetings are essential for all types of employees but can prove especially impactful among newer hires. Entering a new work environment can feel intimidating, but your efforts to reach out will be reassuring. Eventually, these people may become the most vital contacts in your professional network, as they will always recall your efforts to make them feel welcome.
Personal and Soft Skills
Don’t underestimate the value of soft skills for expanding your executive network. If you think of this as a numbers game, you’re bound to be disappointed. How you interact is just as important as whether you get in touch.
If your soft skills are lacking or don’t seem to come naturally, give yourself plenty of opportunities to practice them in low-stakes situations, such as in a college environment or at public speaking clubs.
Be Genuine and Authentic
Employees can spot phoniness a mile away, so make sure that you genuinely feel excited about connecting with them before you attempt to get in touch. The advice “be yourself” may seem sappy, but it really is a central component of executive networking.
Offer and Receive Criticism
Constructive criticism is a crucial part of the business executive experience. You need to know when to provide suggestions and when to back off — micromanaging will only hurt morale and productivity in the long run.
You expect employees to accept constructive criticism, but this goes both ways. Be willing to listen when others have critiques rather than immediately put your guard up. Don’t assume negative feedback is ill-intentioned. Often, the people who provide the most critical commentary genuinely want to help.
Prepare to Listen
Networking is not, as you might assume, about being the best conversationalist or sharing the most impressive insights. Often, your ability to listen is more important than what you have to say.
Learn the art of active listening, in which you absorb not only the actual words or phrases that the other person says but also, accompanying body language and tone of voice. Together, these attributes will provide a more well-rounded take on the other person’s message.
Show that you’re invested in your professional contacts by asking the right questions. In the moment, this will mean actively listening so you can follow up with relevant queries. Questions can also make a huge difference when you haven’t seen a particular contact in quite some time, as they reveal your caring attitude and your exceptional memory.
Your Story Starts Here
As you build your executive network, don’t forget the power of a respected college program to amplify your outreach efforts. At Park University, we offer several opportunities to meet ambitious professionals and grow alongside them as you pursue your shared passions. You’ll also cultivate strong connections with industry leaders, including your knowledgeable professionals and advisors.
We offer several programs that appeal to aspiring executives, including the Master of Business Administration and the Master in Public Administration, as well as business-oriented undergraduate degrees. For the best of both worlds, make the most of our 4+1 opportunities, which helps you make progress towards your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Get in touch today to learn more.