Whether you’re searching for a job or just trying to build connections with other professionals in your field, networking can help open the door to career-boosting opportunities you may not otherwise have access to. However, for most people, approaching a stranger with professional credentials you admire can feel like an awkward/scary means to an end. Don’t let this stop you from putting yourself out there—implementing smart networking strategies can help you forge meaningful professional relationships that become invaluable for your career success. We’ve explored several ways to make the networking process painless while optimizing your connections in a way that will continue to benefit you for years to come.

The networking essentials

– Networking should be a give-and-take

The most important thing to remember as you work on your networking skills is that the connections you make should be mutually beneficial. Don’t enter into a connection thinking you have nothing to offer the person. Even if you are just starting out in the professional world, as long as you’ve done your research on the person you’re speaking to or your mutual field of interest, you have something to contribute.

– Quality over quantity

Networking isn’t a numbers game. You could have over 1,000 connections on LinkedIn, but they won’t be worth much if you don’t have a genuine relationship with any of them. Take the time to learn about a person’s background and interests and decide for yourself whether or not this person is worth building a relationship with. A dozen solid connections will be far more valuable to you than hundreds of contacts you don’t really know.

– Be prepared

Before reaching out to someone, whether it be online or in person, have a good idea of what you’re going to say. You should have your elevator pitch ready to go—this is a short personal statement that explains who you are and what you do in a concise and engaging way. It also helps if you are able to do some research on the person you’re speaking to so you can bring up something in their background that interested you. If you aren’t able to do that, try to find a common professional interest to discuss. It may help to come prepared with two or three topics in case you draw a blank at the moment!

– Nurture your relationships

Don’t let your connections collect dust! Reach out to the members of your network once or twice a year to catch them up-to-date on what you’ve been doing and to hear what they’ve been up to. Ensuring you stay present in their life will solidify your relationship, and they’ll be more likely to think of you if an opportunity comes up that you may be just right for.

Great networking resources

1. LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the modern-day world’s answer to traditional networking opportunities. This platform allows you to easily connect with people who are currently working your dream job, making it an extremely valuable tool. Before using LinkedIn to make new connections, make sure your profile looks up-to-date and professional using our tips.

Once your profile is in good shape, start building your network by connecting with people you know professionally, through school, or based on another common interest. To start networking with individuals who are in a role you’re interested in or employees at your dream company, send a message with your invitation. Craft a brief but personalized message that explains why you’re interested in connecting.

2. Shapr

Shapr is one of our favorite apps to help you land a job, and it’s an awesome tool for networking. It’s built in the same style as popular dating platforms like Bumble where you swipe left and right to meet your match, but on Shapr you are making professional matches instead of romantic ones. You build a profile with your professional history, and the app gives you a selection of professionals in similar fields to you. You swipe left or right depending on whether or not you’d be interested in networking with them. If there’s a match, you can move forward by sending them a message to get the ball rolling!

3. Events

In the era of technology, networking events may seem old school, but they are still one of the best ways to forge meaningful relationships with others in your field. There is truly no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face.

When you meet someone new, be sure to make eye contact, give a firm (but not too tight!) handshake, and have your elevator pitch prepped and ready. It’s a good idea to memorize your pitch before the event, and keep your professional goals in mind as you prepare it—if you’re currently searching for new opportunities, you may want to include that in your pitch.

After your conversation, make sure to get the person’s contact information so you can follow up! Send a quick note within the first 24 hours after the event so that your conversation is still fresh in your mind. Begin by reintroducing yourself and referencing something you spoke about. Just like at the event, remember to think of your correspondence as a two-way street and offer up something helpful in your message, even if it’s just an article or some follow-up thoughts on a topic you discussed.

Before you sign off, include a call to action at the end of your message. Identify a way to move the connection forward, perhaps by inviting them to grab a cup of coffee with you the following week.

4. Socially

You never know who you might meet out in the world, and it’s possible you could run into someone who just happens to have your dream job (or is well on their way there). While you shouldn’t approach every social situation as a potential networking opportunity, it’s still advisable to have your elevator pitch ready to go in case you do meet someone incredible who you want to forge a connection with. The same follow-up guidelines apply here as do at formal networking events.

Now that you have the tools, it’s time to start making connections! By staying confident and approaching new professional relationships with a give-and-take mindset, you’ll be amazed at where your network can take you.