5 ways to network in the real world

Build a stronger online network by grounding those connections in face-to-face encounters.

Online social networking may capture the lion’s share of attention nowadays, but the strongest bonds among people are still based on relationships established in the offline, physical world. How many friends on Facebook are your legitimate “friends”? When was the last time you contacted someone you met offline, instead of online? I guarantee you keep in touch with your offline contacts more because you have a physical connection with them instead of an electronic one!

And when it comes to garnering the attention of corporate recruiters, you’re far more likely to score an interview if the hiring manager has previously met with you in person rather than through a Facebook request or a LinkedIn referral.

You may feel anxious putting yourself out there, but taking the leap is crucial to your job search and overall career success. The more competitive the job market, the more aggressively you must expand your professional network – and the less you should rely on LinkedIn and Facebook to do the heavy lifting for you. Remember that executive recruiters receive hundreds of LinkedIn invitations from people looking for jobs. One of the best ways to stand out in a cluttered online world is to get offline and meet face to face with the people in your online social network. This way, instead of being one of hundreds (or thousands) of online invitations, you become a name and face.

Here are five steps to forging a real-world connection with those who can help you:

1. Reconnect with your current network

The easiest way to meet new people is to leverage your current network. We all have networks, including our friends, family and acquaintances. Get up from your computer and start going to lunches and professional or social events in your industry. Attend these events with friends so you can be introduced to people with whom you wouldn’t normally be in contact. This is especially useful when your friends have the same networking goals in mind and want to pool their efforts with you.

2. Take online contacts offline

If you already have an online following — on your blog, Facebook, Twitter or an online discussion forum — then you can tap into those communities to start meeting people offline. This is especially useful if you’re introverted and you’re looking to meet with peers you know already online. By meeting people offline, you’ll build a stronger network online and vice versa.

3. Volunteer with a nonprofit organization

There are so many nonprofit organizations out there, and if you’re passionate about getting involved in one, all it takes is an e-mail or a phone call. It’s important that you join the right organization so that you stay involved and meet the right people. For instance, if you’re looking to promote new education and workforce strategies to low-income youth and adults, you might want to join Jobs for the Future ( jff.org ). If you’re looking to help raise money to stop poverty, then perhaps you’d join Kiva ( kiva.org ). There is at least one nonprofit organization that aligns to your underlying values and career aspirations. Volunteering your time opens your mind, and your network, to new possibilities.

4. Create remarkable business cards, and use them

If your business cards are thin and boring, consider investing in new ones. Business cards can be cut into many shapes and sizes. A lot of companies offer different materials and formats as well. If your business cards include your own picture, people will remember your face after they meet you. It will also make you appear more personable in a networking situation. Don’t put too much contact information on your cards because people will typically just Google your name. Stick with your preferred method of contact, a Web site or blog URL, a fancy design and cut, and your picture.

5. Start a networking group

If you want to expand your network, start your own group, name it, and invite other people who would be interested in participating. By being the group organizer, you’re immediately positioned as a leader people will want to speak with and get to know. It not only looks good on your resume that you’re involved in a special-interest group, but it will give you the opportunity to meet “the right people” online and offline.