Last fall, I was asked speak at a conference hosted by the University of California Office of the President, “Women’s Leadership in Higher Education:  Culture, Change, Courage.” It was an honor to be there with respected colleagues and to speak to the next generation of leaders in higher education. The experience was energizing and reminded me that the work of an executive search professional remains deeply valuable; we are a central conduit between organizations and their valued human capital. Many of the higher education executives who attended this conference pondered and debated this simple, yet meaningful question: what are the best networking methods a C-suite executive might use that lead to career advancement?

In my experience, there are traditional ways to do this that involve something as simple as membership in a professional association, as well as participation in institutes and trainings that prepare you for the next step, while filling any gaps you may have in your executive competency check list. Continuing education and development programs not only ensure you are challenging yourself, they allow you to make rewarding connections with people in your field. Regardless of your discipline, there are programs designed to offer training so that you are prepared to advance when the time comes.

It is also useful to take leadership roles in these professional associations, speak at conferences, volunteer for visible projects in your professional association, or write—whether it is an article, a blog, or a provocative or thoughtful post on a site such as LinkedIn. Participation and publication, whether official or online, not only demonstrates that you are engaged and taking on more than just what is expected, this activity gives you a chance to show what you know. Recently, I saw an article written by a woman that established she was both smart and forward thinking; she quickly became someone I pursued when my firm was retained to do a President/CEO search.

The last, and often most effective, way to branch out is to engage the network you already have. Discretely tell your colleagues, friends, former managers, direct reports, and professional contacts that you are looking for that next step. This is the #1 way an executive search firm finds you. I have countless examples of candidates I have recruited who were referred to me by someone who knew someone. The rest is, as they say, history.

Finally, find a mentor who is a true mentor. I have previously written about the benefits of having and being a mentor—it happens organically, but is an essential component to professional development. One of the largest impacts a mentor can have is in helping shine a light on the path you can take, assisting in making connection to the right people, and spurring your professional growth. Here’s to productive networking!