We see the people good at networking–those who seemingly have an innate ability to talk, connect, and charm other people–and wonder if we could ever be like them? Although it seems more like a personality trait than a skill you can foster, networking is an ability you can develop.

Networking is how people move up in the world. It’s how you find out about job openings, and how you get the references to actually get the job. Networking is almost as important as your diploma.

Before we get started with the tips, it’s important to remember that the best way to successfully network is to make yourself useful and helpful to people in your network. Help them out or impress a client and they will be referring you to other people that will expand your network. Networking is only a way to show people your skills and abilities and won’t do much if you don’t work hard on your craft.

Here are 8 strategies for successful networking:

1) Don’t have a set agenda: It’s good to have a life plan and an organized way to getting there but when it comes to meeting people you shouldn’t have your personal goals lead your actions. Truly seek to understand and connect with people. You should also meet and talk to everyone. Always introduce yourself and smile. Listen to everyone. You never know who someone is or will be in the future – always assume anyone you meet can be a networking contact.

2) Don’t be shy. Go out there and say hello to people. If you see someone you recognize, don’t hesitate to say hello or introduce yourself. Being a go-getter is essential to networking.

3) Update your social media profiles. LinkedIn should be your new best friend – but only if you keep it updated. Go on it constantly, add anyone and everyone you have met in your industry. LinkedIn is a personal networking portfolio, use it! On top of LinkedIn, many professionals use Facebook, Twitter and other social media, so keep yours updated and use them as another way to connect.

4) Give yourself a weekly/monthy goal. Decide that you will reach out to one or two new people every week and make sure that you do! Keep yourself motivated at all times.

5) Grow a thicker skin. You must be okay with people who may not necessarily like you. It’s important to realize that not everyone will want to be part of your network and not everyone will be easily reachable.

6) Know and reach out to who you want to meet. Research people who you want to meet, and find out how and where you can do so. If you seek out a contact, you are guaranteed to meet them. Make yourself useful or helpful to them. You should also try to attend as many functions as you can. Every new event, gala or meeting you attend can mean new contacts. Try to say yes to as many as humanly possibly.

7) Be a better speaker. If you are going to be meeting people in your field who you need to impress, you have to be confident when you speak. Shake their hand, and speak with confidence – keep your chin high. Show them you know what you are talking about. Show them that they want to know you.

8) Keep in touch. The best way to keep your network of friends and business contacts alive and well is to maintain contact with them. Send out some emails and call your closest contacts every once in a while.

Follow these tips and you are bound to meet some excellent career contacts that may just lead to your big break!

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