Fix Your Lazy Network in 5 Easy Steps

I’ve heard the phrase “You’re only as valuable as your network” my entire life, but I never considered it a major asset because I couldn’t necessarily see it.

I can see my resume and my cover letter. I can see the results of the latest project I worked on at my job. But my network— an intangible workhorse plugging away on my behalf 24/7— was hard to quantify, and therefore invisible because I spent my time focusing on cohorts in school and coworkers at work.

The reality, however, is that whether you choose to see it or not, your network is incredibly important. Whether your network represents new business for your freelancing career or you’re on the hunt for a new job and being considered by a third-degree connection on LinkedIn, the value of your network can lead directly to the value of your income or salary (not to mention career mobility and entrepreneurial growth).

How to Improve the Value of Your Network

If you’ve been passive about developing your network, it’s never too late to start again. Here are five ways you can improve the value of your network and get a better-paying job:

1. Specialize in something

The most important thing you can do for your career is to get specific about what it is you like to do and “create a headline” for yourself based on your goal career. The Harvard Business Review perfectly outlines this trait as your “Personal Value Proposition.” It’s the ability to zero in on what you’re good at and what you love to do and make a reputation for yourself doing it.

Establishing yourself as a go-to person for a given field or topic doesn’t have to be formal. It’s just about making your interests known within your personal network so that friends, professional contacts and potential hiring managers don’t have to guess at your skills. Your reputation, interests and resume clearly align you with the position.

2. Use manners on social media sites such as LinkedIn

When you connect with someone on LinkedIn, always send a note. Many people won’t consider connecting with someone without an introduction, so sending a note will increase the odds of a successful connection.

Something as simple as “Hello Anne, I saw your profile and noticed you’re interested in reading books on business and leadership. I’d love to connect to read more about your thoughts on what you’re reading!” will help you make an impression and build a relationship rather than the other person wondering if you accidentally hit “Connect” while your phone tumbled around in your briefcase. Even if it’s obvious why you are connecting with this person, sending a note can help start a conversation and provide context for your connection request.

3. Target your live networking opportunities

Don’t sign up for networking events based on the title or purpose of the event. Sign up based on who will be there. Target the people who can hire you and go to events that they would choose to attend. This may mean you’re the only nurse’s assistant at a healthcare marketing networking event for HR managers, but it also means you’re going to have the opportunity to form relationships with people who can hire you rather than other nurse’s assistants who cannot hire you.

4. Help others

While it’s important to seek out relationships with people who can help you, it’s just good business to be open to relationships with people you can help. Keeping an eye out for ways you can help someone selflessly (perhaps by stopping by their local store, liking their side business on social media or giving feedback on a new promotion they’re running at work) allows you to develop a positive reputation and satisfy your personal desire to be a part of a community. By giving as much as possible to your network, you put yourself in the position to meet the right opportunity when it comes along.

5. Break the ice in person

Amanda Marko, President of Connected Strategy Group, says that a face-to-face meeting is always more memorable and actionable and that advice stays true today. But many job hunt introverts find themselves nervous about what to say, or worse, completely blank when the time comes to chat.

When you find yourself in a position to network with someone who could help your career, it’s important to have a few icebreakers to facilitate the connection. Stock up on a few standard introductory questions, such as your elevator pitch, your business card and (if it fits your personality) a few jokes. If possible, be ready to share a story or something you’ve learned recently that applies to the situation. Smile naturally and shake hands firmly and you are well on your way to establishing a friendly relationship.

If you’re only as valuable as your network, it’s worth taking steps today to invest in yourself and grow your value over time. Implement these steps to grow a targeted, vibrant network of people who can help you and who you can help, and you’ll find great value in it indeed.