Further to our Learn with Gradguide kickoff last week with the wonderful Alice Immink of LinkedIn, we've been thinking a lot about the value of networking and the role it plays in advancing your career.

We live in a time where it's never been easier to stay connected. In fact, regularly refreshed updates across various social media feeds often making it feel like it never stops. However, the events that have transpired this year mean that people have been forced to get creative with their efforts to build and maintain professional relationships.

As this year draws to a close and we move into the next, it seems like a good time to review some of the core elements of networking that will allow you to build meaningful relationships either online or in-person.

Start with the people you know 👥

While connecting with new people who you admire or may be able to help you move forward in your career can be exciting, it's also crucial to nourish your existing relationships.

Whether you know it or not, you've been inadvertently building out your network throughout your life and professional career to date. When you went to school and college or went on holidays or trips abroad, it's quite likely you met some people along the way.

Send them over a LinkedIn message or a short text to arrange a virtual coffee or just reach out from time to time to check in on how they are and what they're getting up to.

As you continue to do this and build relationships with people, it'll become easier to ask more targeted questions around people they might know in one of your target companies or even an industry.

If you're fortunate enough to be working at the moment, don't forget to invest time in getting to know the people you already work with, particularly if you're not interacting with them on a daily basis.

By getting involved with social company activities that you're interested in, you can get to know the people outside of your team and what their job entails, which will not only help grow your network but will also help you do your current job better.

Ask for an introduction 🤝🏼

If you're trying to grow your network in a certain area or for a specific reason, don't be afraid to ask any close friends or contacts to introduce you to people within their network.

A referral can be a great way to break the ice and get a conversation going. Just be weary of the fact that if someone introduces you to a connection, the quality of the interaction you have will reflect back on them. Needless to say, if it goes badly, they might not be as quick to introduce you to someone again.

To give yourself the best chance of avoiding a negative interaction, do your research about the company they work for and the person ahead of time.

You should come with questions that go beyond asking for general information about the person’s company and industry. Showing you’ve done some research into the field will send a signal that you’re serious and not wasting the person’s time.

Never ever, under any circumstances open by asking for a job. While this is probably the goal, relationships take time to build and no one likes to feel like they're being used.

Leverage social media properly 💻

Depending on your industry, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all indispensable tools for keeping up to speed on what’s happening and forging connections.

While vanity metrics such as follower count can be a convenient means by which to measure success, it's often the case growing your network entails more than simply acquiring as many connections/followers/friends as possible.

Thanks to social media, you can see in real time what your network is working on or excited about, and those insights can be extremely useful when trying to engage and strike up conversation.

Despite what you may think, your friends don't really care about what you post. If you feel like you can add value to some of the conversations taking place online, feel free to jump in and get involved.

Having said that, it’s also essential to be mindful at all times of how you present yourself on these platforms. Research carried out recently showed that 70% of employers check prospective employees social media pages at some point in the hiring process, which means that if you've something that needs to be deleted - delete it.

As with all things in life, there are grey areas but it goes without saying that you shouldn't mix professional contacts or conversations with personal ones, and don’t share or post anything that could back to haunt you in the future.

Make a habit of it 📝

While the ultimate goal of networking is to get a job, you shouldn't stop once you've achieved that. As is the case with starting to try any new habit, you probably won't notice any great difference initially, it's only when you do it regularly that the true benefits will emerge.

Set time aside every week to connect with new people as well as ensuring you maintain contact with people you already have a relationship with.

Developing networking as a habit can help you in numerous ways, including making you feel more connected to people and also setting yourself up for career success.

For example, a person you keep in touch regularly may make you their first phone call if they know of an open position within their company.