Yes, you can enjoy summer and still keep your professional momentum going. Learn the art of summer networking.

No matter where you live, summer is a time to look forward to fun in the sun. Ball games, outdoor concerts, and friendly happy hours are just the tip of the sunny season iceberg. Maybe it’s the precedent set by our days in school, but summer just feels like a time to let loose and relax a bit, even if you still have to go to work.

However, when it comes to career advancement, you don’t want to take the summer off. It’s always a good idea to keep building new relationships that can help you and your career grow. The good news? Just like everything else during the summer, networking can be a little more fun, too.

Here are seven networking tips to help you make the most out of your summer without putting your professional development on hold.

1. Set a few networking goals.

Okay, goal setting may not be a lot of fun, but it will help you lay the groundwork for a productive and fun summer. Stick with setting realistic networking goals that you can control — for example, the number of events or personal lunches you’ll attend. If you bank on landing X-number of interviews or something else out of your control, you could be setting yourself up for failure despite your best efforts. How about attending one new networking event in a fun location each month? Your goals don’t have to be life-changing, but the results could be.

Networking Tip: Look over your resume. Then look on LinkedIn for someone you admire or who’s in a role you want to reach. What skills or experience does that person have that you do not? How can you use networking to fill those gaps?

What's missing from your resume? Submit your resume for a free review.

2. Utilize online resources.

Don’t know where to start when it comes to meeting your networking goals? Head to a website like Meetup.com and search for groups in your area. It’s an easy way to meet like-minded people. You can try to find people that have interests in the same industry as you or discover a group that focuses on something you would like to learn more about. Localized networking sites like Meetup.com make it easy to find groups of people who live close to you and share common interests.

Networking Tip: Think outside the box. You don’t have to join a professional association to successfully network for career development. Look for groups that like the same hobbies as you.The key to successful networking is meeting new people.

3. Check out charity events.

Summer is a prime time for outdoor charity events. If you think charity events are strictly black-tie events and shameless plugs for money, you need to get out to more of them, and soon. Today’s charity event organizers know that if they want people to come out to their events, they need to make them fun and interesting. That can mean ball games, bands, and other fun things. Instead of begging from you, a lot of events have silent auctions where you can get fun things like trips, gift certificates, and more for a bid that’s significantly less than the value. Many charity events aren’t afraid to have a bar present, either.

Networking Tip: Recruiter some friends to attend a networking event that supports a charity that's meaningful to you. You’ll have a good time, help a great cause, and meet others who are like-minded.

4. Join a committee.

Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound like fun, does it? If you do it right, being a part of a committee for a summertime event could be rewarding and maybe even a little bit fun. Is your employer having a family picnic? Does your company sponsor a charity event like a 5K Run/Walk? Or perhaps there’s a church group event or your kids’ summer sports team.

Many groups seek volunteers at all levels to help out at their cool events. By signing up, you’re benefitting yourself in multiple ways — not only will you enjoy yourself but it’s an easy networking opportunity and a new work experience to add to your resume.

Networking Tip: If you think you’ll hate it, don’t do it. Quitting looks worse than not helping at all. Find an event that you’ll enjoy being a part of and you should be fine.

5. Treat a new contact.

Let’s say you’ve made some great contacts over the past few months. You’ve stayed in touch on Linkedin, but now it’s time to boost that relationship. Does your contact like sports? Grab a couple of tickets to a baseball or hockey game (baseball is great because the pace of the game allows for easy conversation). Or, do the same thing with a concert. If you know that your contact is a big Jimmy Buffett fan and he’s coming to town, why not give it a shot? He’ll appreciate the gesture and you may just get to see your new friend with his professional guard down in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.

Networking Tip: Dress for the occasion, but be mindful of your personal brand. Save the crazy face paint and sports jersey for a sports event with friends.

6. Check out a new spot.

There’s a new place in town serving amazing lunches with a spectacular view and you’d like to go. But, no one has asked and you usually don’t spend that much on lunch. No problem. Reach out to a networking contact and see if she’d want to try it with you. Chances are you’ll be on neutral turf since your contact probably hasn't tried it either, and you’ll have just the excuse you were looking for to try out that new spot. Food is always a good icebreaker. Who doesn’t love talking about a favorite dish?

Networking Tip: Since you issued the invite, be prepared to pick up the check. It’s a small price to pay for a good contact.

7. Join the team for Happy Hour.

Happy hours exist all year round, but there's something a little different about that post-work cocktail during the summer months. If you find the right place with fun drinks, a little music, and an outdoor setting, the summer happy hour is just a little happier than other happy hours. It’s okay to take advantage of this and invite a contact out for drinks. This is especially true if your contact works at the same company as you or you met at a happy hour networking event. Keep it friendly, casual, and with a group.

It goes without saying, but if you want to impress, you shouldn’t have more than one or two drinks.

Networking Tip: Don’t jump into business talk right away. It’s time to relax and chit-chat about whatever you want. If your contact leads the conversation in a professional direction, then go with it.

Networking could help to keep your career heading in the right direction, so it shouldn’t take summers off. Figuring out how to network in the summer doesn’t mean you have to book your summer full of tedious networking mixers that make your inner introvert scream. Let your hair down, relax, and find some fun ways to keep meeting people and boosting your career. Take this time to meet a few new people or grow the relationships you’ve already started. Best of all, you can still be outdoors doing the things you love.

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