In 2011, I wrote a very similar post in the wake of a multi-year rough employment market that plagued many. Since that post, almost three years has passed, but the concepts I discussed previously have remained the same—which likely means that a strong professional network is something you need at ALL times. So, I thought I’d freshen this extremely vital element for your professional success and provide some pointers on how to build your professional network.

How to Build Your Professional Network

Quantity is Important But Diversity is the Key

We just completed our 2014 milewalk Annual Employment Survey and there is absolutely no question the employment market looks drastically different than it did in 2011. Employees are happier, companies are enjoying lower turnover rates, and top talent is still in demand. Regardless of your job situation, you should always maintain a healthy professional network and the time to build one is when you don’t need it.

The best type of professional network isn’t necessarily the largest one. It’s actually the most diversified one. More on that later.

We know how important networking has become in critical markets. Fortunately, the speedy advancements of social networking sites such as Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus have made it easier than ever. These sites, as well as the lost art of actual word-of-mouth interaction, help individuals during their job search (or career advancement) by surfacing unadvertised opportunities that could catapult their careers. Beyond professional reasons, a strong, diversified network is just as beneficial for day-to-day personal needs—finding a good lawyer (not an easy thing), getting a reference on a contractor, or discovering a great restaurant.

While I pride myself on being an “entrepreneurial matchmaker” or “acquaintanceship artist,” I recognize many are not motivated to do so. Granted, this is something that benefits my profession as a recruiter. Even so, I started doing this as a young adult because it made me feel good to bring great people together. I encourage everyone to do it simply because it helps the universe go ’round more smoothly.

Regarding your network, how do you know if it’s strong enough to support you professionally and personally? Test it!

If you had to contact someone for professional reasons, how many people would you feel at ease calling? Fewer than 50 indicate your network is too small. The number itself, however, is only one metric. The more important indicator of its health is likely its diversity. A small network of deep ties is nice, but the best constellation combines the nucleus of strong ties with a well-balanced complement of secondary relationships. This level of quantity along with greater diversity flat out gives you more options and access to the people or things you need to more easily operate your life.

One other often-overlooked benefit of a strong network is its ability to help build your cultural smarts. Think about it. Exposure to a wider genre of people will help gain insight and experience that often stales because you’re tied to normal routines. Whether you’ve met these individuals through school (or your children’s school), work, healthclub, coffee shop, or wherever, they collectively serve as the most powerful teacher of culture through their variety.

There is no single formula for more effective networking and relationship building. One thing is certain, it’s something you do over time as opposed to a single event. You should also do it regularly, rather than only when you need something. My best suggestions would be to allocate time each month reaching out (or preferably meeting with) individuals or groups that are important and of interest to you. Ask them about others you should meet. Even if you happen to need something at that moment, that will at least provide an avenue to extend your network. Want a bigger bang for your time? Join a business or social club. Too expensive? Join a running club. Hate to run? Join a free networking group. Don’t know any? Google “networking group

[insert your topic of interest here].” You get the picture. Once you get the ball rolling, you can extend your network from there.