Anyone who has ever found their dream job through a referral or personal connection will tell you that deepening one's network is an invaluable part of growing any career. It's true, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. Balancing work and personal life is hard enough. Dedicating time to building your network on top of that might sound daunting, or at least exhausting.
The truth is, while networking is work, it's shockingly easy to fold bite-sized networking tasks into your daily routine. Through only a minimal time commitment each day, your contacts can multiply in no time.
Send more LinkedIn requests than resumes
When seeking a role while growing a new network, it's not uncommon for job seekers to submit applications en masse, hoping to make up for a lack of connections by reaching out to more employers. As productive as this may feel, it's not the most efficient use of time.
"If you're sending off 30, 40, 50 resumes a week, you are burning time," says John Roccia, director of career services at career coaching firm Ama La Vida. "That is not effective. The number of applications you should send should be much smaller, more focused. Replace that time with networking time."
Prioritizing reaching out to new contacts over endlessly applying is not only a better long-term investment of time, but it's also easier and more immediately rewarding. And you never know if making the right connection might later result in skipping the application process altogether.
Reallocate social media time
If you're active on social media, your networking skills may already be sharper than you think. In a world where many spend hours per day posting to more personal social channels, those who dedicate even a fraction of that time to a network like LinkedIn see greater success than you might realize.
If you already engage with social channels in your free time, Roccia recommends simply converting a small portion of that daily ritual to focus on networking instead. This can be as easy as signing in to LinkedIn instead of Facebook or Twitter. "Make one or two posts," Roccia says. "If you break it down, this is 20 minutes a day."
Remember to engage every day
"Networking is more about consistent long-term action than any one 'lightning strike' post that's going to make a thousand people reach out to you," Roccia continues. In many cases, this long-term action might simply take the form of commenting on a post or engaging with your network in other small ways.
"It's about consistently offering up expertise, consistently offering up insights. Reaching out to other people and commenting on their posts. Asking good questions. You can move the needle tremendously by just asking a question on every post that's interesting in your field."
And of course, if more casual social sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook truly are relevant to your particular industry, fostering the same kind of career-focused interactions can help there too.
Network offline, too
Amidst the never-ending request-sending and online interaction, don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for potential in-person connections. You can never predict who someone might be friends with. "Being comfortable talking about who you are and what you're looking for, you'd be surprised by how many people you'll meet who might go, 'Oh, I know somebody at that place, I'd be happy to make an introduction,'" says Emily Kapit, lead career strategist and owner of ReFresh Your Step.
Between finding local networking events or simply attending a workplace happy hour, you might make a connection anywhere. If the above online-centric tricks become too rote, try stepping away from the screen to do the same thing. Kapit says whether you're at a wedding, in line at the grocery store, or at a bar, there's always the opportunity to network. "There's always a chance to build that relationship. And you never know where it's going to go."