When it’s time to look for a new job, one of the best tools in your arsenal is your professional network. Having good connections can be the difference between getting an interview or having your resume end up in a massive stack of “maybes”.

But how do you go about building a network that can genuinely pay off when you need it? 

It’s actually pretty easy to do.

If you’re looking for ways to find new connections, keep reading. 

Here are the 7 secrets to building your professional network so you can advance your career.

1. Find Opportunities to Connect With People You Don’t Know

Your network can, and should, include a vast array of people. Current coworkers, former colleagues, former bosses, friends, and friends of friends all belong in your group. 

But so do clients, vendors, associates, and people in your professional groups. And don’t forget former classmates, alumni from your college, and former professors — they can all help you build a strong network.

But eventually, you’ll run out of people you know.

Your network can also grow with strangers that you’ve never met before. The broader it is, the better. People in other industries can be just as valuable as the people in your current industry, especially if you ever make a career change.

So the next time you’re at a coffee shop, a bar, or on a flight, pay attention to what the strangers around you are saying. If you overhear an interesting conversation, jump in and introduce yourself. You never know who that person may be or who they may know.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Build Your Network From the Top Down

Don’t assume that your network can only be made up of people on your level or slightly above you.

If Mark Zuckerberg is your personal hero, try to connect with him!

Look at the profiles of CEOs or industry leaders that you admire. You may not be able to connect with them directly, at first, but you can probably connect with someone that knows them or works with them.

If they have a LinkedIn profile, connect with a few of their connections. If they don’t have a LinkedIn page, browse the company website to find the names of other people that work in the company. Then connect with those people instead.

Send a brief email to your new connection and let them know that you admire the work that Zuckerberg (or whoever you’re targeting) does. That person just might put you in touch with the person you’re trying to reach. And if they don’t, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have tried! 

3. Stay Abreast of Industry Trends

The more up to date you are on what’s going on in your industry, the more people will want to network with you. 

Networking goes both ways, so the relationship should be able to benefit both of you. If you’re not up to speed with what’s happening around you, you won’t have much to offer others in return.

Follow industry groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to stay in-the-know about what’s happening in industries that interest you. Subscribe to newsletters from companies that you admire so you know what they’re doing and where they’re headed. 

Pick a few companies that you care about and read their blogs and social media posts. The more sources you read, the more you’ll learn.

4. Join Professional Associations

Joining professional associations is a great way to meet people that share common interests and goals.

It’s a good idea to join groups that have monthly or annual in-person events so you can meet some people face to face. 

But you can also join social media groups to connect with people in other cities around the country. 

Whether you connect with people online or in person, professional associations are full of people that belong in your network.

5. Attend Networking Events

It can be easy to want to head home and relax on the couch after the end of a long day at work. But spending an hour or two at a networking event can help you make valuable connections that you’ll never make otherwise.

Make these events a social experience by attending with a coworker or friend. That way, if you run into someone that he or she knows, you’ll have an instant new connection.

When you’re at professional events, be open and approachable. These events are designed for mingling and getting to know people. Don’t be afraid to jump into a conversation or introduce yourself to someone you’ve never met before. 

The more outgoing you are, the more likely it is that people will want to network with you in return.

6. Maintain Relationships

Having a huge network doesn’t mean collecting names and email addresses of people in your industry. You have to keep in touch with the people who matter to you and who may be able to help advance your career.

Reach out to email contacts and connections every few months. A simple phone call or a brief email chat is all it takes to strike up a conversation and create and maintain good relationships. 

If you have close personal relationships to your contacts, meet in person for a cup of coffee or a drink after work.

Having 1,000 connections on LinkedIn doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t form and maintain relationships with those people.

7. Ask for Help

When in doubt, ask people you trust to help you build your network. This is especially important if you’re just starting your career or just beginning to acquire connections.

Ask friends, parents, relatives, and neighbors if they can put you in touch with someone in your field or someone at a company you’d like to work for. 

A simple introduction through a mutual friend is sometimes all it takes to form a great new relationship on your own.

Building a strong professional network is easy — if you know how to do it.

Find opportunities to connect with people you don’t know. Join professional groups and associations. Attend networking events. Stay abreast of industry trends and maintain relationships with the people you care about the most.

Keep these simple steps in mind, and you’ll be on your way to building an even greater network than you ever imagined. 

Author Bio: Lisa Gotte is the Business Manager at Broadstone Barker Cypress. With over 15 years of experience in the industry, she begins and ends each day loving what she does. She finds joy in helping others and makes this property a place everyone loves to call home.