We’ve all heard it a million times: The best way to create job opportunities for yourself is through your professional network. Of course, in order to network, you need to have people to network with—and depending on your current situation, those people may be in short supply.
One of the biggest reasons to attend business school is to build up your network. You’re constantly being thrown into situations where you’re forced (in a good way!) to meet new people and create meaningful connections.
But rather than advise you to sign up (a.k.a., apply, interview, and enroll) for business school, I’m letting you in on the networking secrets that I learned. Think of it as a much less expensive shortcut to a brand new circle of professional connections.
Whether you just graduated from college, moved to a new city, or are exploring a completely new industry, here are five ways to build your network from scratch.
1. Join (or Start) Your Local College Alumni Club
College alumni clubs are a great way to start building a network in your city. Most put on a combination of social and professional events, and some schools even have sub-groups based on age or interest. For example, I went to the University of Virginia, and its alumni club put on everything from a monthly book group to a speaker series with local business leaders.
It was a great way to meet a wide variety of people in my city—and because we all had something in common, starting conversations was easy.
To figure out how to contact your local club, contact the alumni office at your school. If your city doesn’t have an alumni club, ask your school about starting one.
2. Put Yourself in the Job Search Mindset
Most people put forth their best effort to build a network when they’re actively looking for a new job. But even if you’re not currently lining up interviews, adopting the job-searching mindset can help you boost your networking game.
Commit to spending 15 minutes each day on typical job-search activities—for example, reaching out to connections on LinkedIn to ask about their work, searching for local job fairs, registering for professional conferences, or following up with contacts from previous meetings. It’ll be just a small portion of your day, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it will help you connect with a large group of people.
3. Get Social
The advice “Get out there and make new friends!” may sound too fun to be associated with serious networking, but it’s actually very effective: Simply being social is a great way to start building a network.
Try expanding your social circle by going to meetups, joining a soccer team, or starting a friend-of-a-friend book club—i.e., you invite a few friends to join the club, then ask each person to bring a friend along. As you make new friends, you’ll also make new professional connections that you can add to your growing network. (Hey, even if they’re not in your industry, you never know who they know.)
4. Stay Caught Up in Your Field of Interest
As you start networking more, it’s important to do your homework by staying on top of what’s going on in your industry. Read the news, subscribe to relevant daily newsletters (for example, I like Mattermark for investing and EdSurge for education technology), and keep up with your industry’s movers and shakers. To figure out who to follow, I recommend searching relevant industry topics on Twitter and the Huffington Post, so you can get a sense of who is active in your specific professional community. You can even get involved in the conversation by interacting with those people on social media (more on that here).
By staying up to date on what’s going on in your field, you’ll be able to break the ice when you meet new contacts and start meaningful conversations about professional topics.
5. Ask for Help
You may be building a network from scratch, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the connections you already have. Ask your relatives, friends, neighbors, or even your mailman if they can introduce you to valuable professional connections.
You may be worried about putting them on the spot, but don’t let that hold you back; would you be angry at a friend if he asked you to help him out by passing along a connection? Of course not!
I’ve always found that it’s best to be direct and ask outright to be put in touch with a particular person (here’s a template). It also helps to make this as easy as possible for the other person—for example, by including a blurb about yourself in the request, which can be passed along to the potential connection.
Building a network from scratch is no easy task, but it’s worth the hard work—because in the long run, it will set you up for new opportunities and professional wins.