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We all know the importance of having a good social nd professional network. Networking is emphasized again and again in any business or career-related book or blog you read. Networking is important, but it has to be the right network. The concept of networking yourself is like driving a car. If you want to reach a place, you simply drive there; but, if you don’t have a destination in mind and start driving in any direction, you are only wasting your time. Networking has to be value-adding for it to be worth your time. Here’s how you can ensure the network you build is adding value:

1 – Identify Key Players

If you want a network that can give you an edge over your competition, you will need to fill your network with key players – people who have the power to influence others and promote you. Often, key players will be obvious. It is easy to see that you need to be in touch with people in upper management as well as people in executive positions. Formal and informal leaders at every level are valuable. Diversifying your network is one of the most valuable techniques you can use.

2 – Network Downward

The biggest mistake people make when networking is that they only attempt to network upward; i.e. with people who have larger responsibilities and designations than them. Exclusive upward networking is the easiest way to have a network that seems golden but is, in truth, ineffective. If you are in a bind or need a favor, are you going to call an executive in another company? Networking upward has great benefits for career growth, while networking downward has great knowledge and insider benefits.

3 – Provide Value

The easiest way to have a network that adds value is to become a person who provides value. You don’t have to go around helping people; if you provide support to your network. The news that you are a useful person will spread throughout your network and others. Being the go-to person is always a valuable asset.

4 – Fun Matters

When you’re networking professionally, you need to keep things fun. You don’t have to be unprofessional, but you can be less formal. Back when smoking was a more popular occurence, there was always a manager in organizations who had more clout with underlings than any other manager simply because he/she smoked in the smoking room along with the others and had built a good repertoire with others.

5 – Check in with People

A good way to ensure your network is beneficial is to keep communication open with people. If you are young, most of your peers will text more often than one-on-one or phone discussions. If you are older, then you likely call or meet for coffee to enhance your network communication. Often, during these interactions, people will hear about opportunities and will have the chance to recommend someone. If you promote communication, you’ll be on the minds of those in your network.

6 – Never get Involved in Drama

Just because a network consists of professionals, doesn’t mean there won’t be drama within the group. You need to remain neutral and fair. When the dust settles, people are going to remember who took what side. The people who stay neutral will be in the best position because they can continue being friends with everyone. Staying neutral is a good way to ensure your network grows instead of dividing.

6.5 – Be the Addition to the Network you want

Set the precedent in your network by treating others equally fair and acting in the way you feel all members of your network should work.