How to expand your professional network as a contract worker
Here are five of our top tips for expanding your professional network as a contract worker.
For many people, the word 'networking' elicits a sense of dread and evokes images of large event spaces with people nervously milling around with drinks. Or maybe you recall Zoom calls with cheesy ice breakers and people talking over one another. It's easy to see why most people avoid putting themselves in these situations.
Yet, as a contract worker or long-term freelancer, expanding your professional network plays a huge role in getting you your next gig. Studies show that "as much as 80 percent of jobs are filled through personal or professional connections." Furthermore, interacting with others through networking can help you develop nontechnical skills that may be helpful throughout your career, such as long-term relationship building, empathy, nonverbal communication, and active listening.
As with most things in life, there isn't one "right" way to network. There are many different paths or approaches you could pursue; you just need to find the one that feels natural. Here are five of our top tips for expanding your professional network as a contract worker. Be selective and strategic about in-person (or virtual) events.
There are thousands or even millions of networking events posted on the internet every day. Some are led by people or organizations with industry experience, and others, well…Take time to find gatherings targeted toward your industry or job role. You can use more general sites such as Meetup.com and search for groups or events based on relevant descriptions such as "developer," "UX/UI designer" or "python coding." You could also Google where you live alongside phrases such as "female engineers under 40" to see what's out there. Or, see if your university has an alumni organization or any affinity groups specific to your field. These meetings can be great places to not only find businesses that are hiring, but you can meet like-minded people who work at companies you admire. Hint: keep in touch with them.
Share valuable content and establish points of connection.
If reaching out to people one-to-one is more your style, consider emailing people you haven't talked to in a while to see how things are going. However, instead of sending a generic email that says something like "How're things" or "Just checking in," ask yourself, "what can I bring to this exchange?" Let's say the person you're reaching out to is the Head of UX/UI at a company you like. You might compliment them on an award their company won for design or share an interesting article on the benefits of intelligent UX design in the workplace to show that your message is for them and you want to strike up a conversation. This approach also gives the person something to respond to, rather than another generic message clogging up their inbox or LinkedIn.
Use your hobbies to build relationships.
Networking doesn't have to happen under the formal guise of a work-centric event. You can find plenty of exciting and valuable connections through extracurricular activities or hobbies you engage in regularly. By sharing common interests with people and having an established relationship, you're likely one step ahead of those who send out cold emails. Plus, people who share common interests might be more likely to remember you and reach out with opportunities when they do arise. And as a bonus, making time for your hobbies can make you better at your job by cultivating workplace skills such as creativity and learning how to view problems from a different perspective.
Make a plan to stay in touch and keep yourself accountable.
We've all had a coffee or meeting with someone and then never talked to them again. Not only is this poor form, but it means you have to keep finding new people to reach out to. Instead, focus on cultivating a solid network with the connections you have. And when you add new people, do so thoughtfully.
Keep yourself organized by making a spreadsheet with the names of all your contacts, their titles, and where they work. You might also note any personal details that could help customize your messages, such as "Kathy loves hiking" or "Alex used to work for Nike." Then, make a note of every time you reach out to them and set reminders on your calendar for when you should reach out again via email or phone. How often you reach out is a personal preference but checking in about once a quarter (every two to three months) is a good reference point.
Volunteer your time.
The further along you are in your career, the more likely it is that someone younger might reach out on LinkedIn to ask for advice, or someone you know might ask you to talk with their child/friend/colleague/sister's niece. If you feel comfortable, say yes. It's always good to give back to others in your industry, and word will get around.
If you are the extroverted type, you could also offer to speak at an industry event as a panelist or teach a workshop on coding or design or whatever skills you have. Anything that gets your name out there in a meaningful way will help you build your brand and naturally introduce you to various interesting people.
Find a support system.
If everything we said sounds like a lot of work (don't worry, you can do it!), consider reaching out to a company that can broker those connections and job offers for you. This kind of relationship can be gratifying, as it alleviates the burden of having to make those relationships yourself, especially with larger companies where there are more gatekeepers. Bonzzu, for instance, has a job board that we regularly update with roles, and we love to meet talented people.
Are there any networking approaches you've found helpful that we didn't mention? Let us know on social!