With potentially tough economic times ahead,  getting the right job will depend on the strength of your professional network. What most forget to do is to manage and maintain their professional network even when they are currently and happily employed.

“It is very tempting in these understaffed times to do the work at hand simply to get through the day,” says Marcia Finberg, a healthcare marketer and administrator in the Phoenix area for more than 20 years. “Unless you nurture your network, you can be caught short if, say, your hospital goes into red ink and heads roll.”

The best course of action is to prepare your network ahead of time so that, heaven forbid, you lose your job tomorrow, you are in the best position to land back on your feet.

Study your current professional network and ask this question: “Do I have enough contacts to help me get back on my feet should I need it?”

If the answer is “no,” then here are three tips to help improve your professional network!

Paint the Network Picture

Step one to improving your professional network is to paint a picture of what the “ideal” professional network looks like.

“Begin by writing a list of words and phrases that would describe the people you want to meet, get to know, and with whom you want to build positive and helpful professional relationships,” says consultant Patti DeNucci, author of “The Intentional Networker: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals, and Results in Business.” She says, “Reflect on yourself and be sure you are also exuding those characteristics. You want to be someone that others want to know as well. Solid networks are built on mutual trust, respect, and helpfulness.”

Be a Resource

“Helping others is one way to get into good graces with them,” says Suzanne Garber, Chief Networking Officer for International SOS, international healthcare, medical, and security assistance company. “Share your expertise and knowledge in your particular area. Connect people with others in your network to help advance their business. Take the focus off of you and put it onto others. You know that guy “Bob” who only calls because he wants something and the feeling of dread that ensues? Don’t be ‘Bob.’ You want people to be happy when you walk into a room, not when you exit.”

Be Organized

Consider developing a good electronic filing system for your contacts. “Don’t rely on sticky notes and handwritten chicken scratch in various notebooks to help you remember who you met when and where,” says Garber.

Also, don’t forget to consistently keep in touch with your contacts via LinkedIn, Twitter, and other forms of social media (basically wherever you are connected). Networking is an all-season sport! If you haven’t contacted them over time, they really aren’t contacts.

The best thing to do with your “list” of contacts is to organize them by importance to the goals of your career. Contacts on your “A” list you can reach out to on a weekly or monthly basis, “B’s” on a quarterly basis, and “C’s” on a yearly basis. This way, you can spend the most time on those whom you can help the most or can help you.

With these three tips, you’ll now have a strong professional network that you utilize should

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