Undergraduate Programs

How to Build Your Professional Network

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Professional headshot of Kyaw Myo

Hi everyone! My name is Kyaw Myo, and I am a rising sophomore with an engineering and management major at Clarkson University. If you are reading this, I assume you are someone who wants to start building your professional network or to take it to the next level.

First, a little bit about me. I am passionate about improving myself and learning how to get to the next level in my life. Networking has helped me do that in many ways. About three years ago, I came to the United States and had no connections. Because of some experiences I had and my own passion, I was able to build my professional network to include some amazing people.

Here, I am going to share some of my experiences, as well as some tips and suggestions on how you can build and grow your professional network. If that sounds good, let’s dive in.

What is Networking?

Career fair in the ERC at Clarkson University

Let’s first look at what networking is. Networking is basically building relationships with the people you want to collaborate with in the future and keeping those relationships active through regular communication for “mutual benefit.” One important thing to keep in mind is that networking starts with how you can help others – what you can get out of a relationship comes later.

It is important to know what it is that you can offer before you start networking. I will share with you exactly how I networked to build relationships and took it to the next level, but, before I do, let’s take a look at why networking is essential in order for you to get to the next level in your life.

Why is Networking Important?

I have not always been a networker, at least not until I read the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I must give credit to a lovely lady who recommended that I read it. This book highlights the importance of networking and building one relationship at a time. Reading this book opened my eyes to how knowing the right people in higher places can take your life to the next level.          

Students holding resumes in suits speaking with Employers at the Career fair

So I decided to start building small relationships, which enabled me to understand the importance of networking even more. It gave me a sense of confidence in myself. It made me more. I became aware of my surroundings and, more importantly, of the people around me. I started to decide who I wanted to become friends with and who I would rather pass on.

This helped me realize that it is about the quality of people and not the quantity. I do not have many friends, but the ones I have are very important to me. They are my network, and they are mostly professional people in higher places. Knowing them and letting them know me has opened up so many opportunities, because they appreciated my passion to become a better version of myself.

How to Network and the Benefits of Networking

A student holding a resume folder shaking hands with a man standing in front of a display booth

I understand that networking can be intimidating. I have been there. I have made some networking mistakes myself. If you are still reading at this point, I want to thank you for sticking around. I am going to share exactly how I was able to build some quality relationships.

It all started when I was in Nottingham High School in Syracuse. After reading Never Eat Alone, I started visiting my high school guidance counselor at least once a week, sometimes more. I did not know the fancy way of building a relationship at the time, but I knew I wanted to build a quality relationship with her, so I visited to let her know that I was grateful for her.

When someone realizes that you take time out of your day to say hi and tell them that you are grateful for them, they remember you. Keeping the relationship active through conversations on a regular basis is one of the most important things you can do when you are networking. Building relationships sometimes requires small sacrifices, such as showing initiative and taking the time talk. Keeping it genuine is just as important. People know whether you are genuine.

Open up to them about something you want them to know about you in a way that makes them feel trusted and important to you. How do you do that? It is exactly as it sounds. Just be genuine and open up to them, and that will do the trick.

In my senior year of high school, I became very good friends with my guidance counselor. Without knowing her, my life would have been a lot more stressful and difficult during the college application process. She helped me throughout the whole process. She even went shopping for suits with me before I left for university. I am now in university, and I still visit her whenever I can. I refer to her as one of my best friends now.

Close up shot of a student holding a 'Clarkson University' Folder

There is another person I want to mention here. I have known her for several years and have built a strong relationship with her. She is also someone in my professional network who is dear to me. She is the director of the Liberty Partnership Program (LPP) in Syracuse. LPP works to build leadership skills and civic duty through service-learning in all students, grades 5-12, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

After a couple of weeks in the program, I became friendly with the staff there, thanks to the author of Never Eat Alone for teaching me about the value of a quality relationship. As you may have already guessed, I tried to build a relationship with the director of the program. I did not use any fancy techniques; I just simply started a conversation with her and let her know that I loved being in the program and that it would be my honor to help out in any way I could.

Then I kept the relationship active through regular communication. After I got to know her better, I opened up to her about my passion and my goals. The better someone knows you, the more they are going to remember you. And, because they remember you, when there is a great opportunity, they think of you first.

Just a disclaimer: I did not set up this relationship just so I could benefit from it; although I knew I would. I was doing it simply because I enjoyed it so much; any benefits were byproducts.

Three of my friends and I were invited to attend a leadership conference, Empire Summit, at which representatives from all of the LPPs in New York state come together to celebrate the success of the program as a whole.

Usually students can only attend this conference once, but, because I had put the time and effort into building a relationship with the director, I was invited again, along with three other students, to represent the program. I have been given the opportunity to speak for the program at several events at Le Moyne College, and I was even invited to speak again after I had graduated from high school.

I will be working with LPP during July of this year. This is the power of networking with people who can help you do more and become more. The more quality relationships you have, the stronger your network is.

In case you are wondering if you can strategically plan this kind of relationship in order to benefit from it, the answer is yes, but nothing beats authenticity. Find someone you genuinely like and start building a relationship with them. Let them know that you want to help in order to better what they do.

Make sure to keep relationships active. Start with people who you see on a regular basis. If you are a student, start talking to professors, your advisor and even potential employers. Take advantage of the connections you already have. If you are not a student, start talking to people who are working in higher positions within your field.

I hope this article was useful to you. Keep networking and expanding your professional network. GOOD LUCK on your journey.

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