It’s common knowledge that the most effective tool for career change is your network. In fact, research shows that 60-80% of professional-level positions are obtained through one’s network, says John Bennett, director of the Master of Science at the McColl School of Business. The best network a professional can create is one that’s made of strong, genuine relationships, keeping in mind that networking is just as much about what you have to offer as what your network has to offer to you. Lynne Waymon, co-author of “Make Your Contacts Count” states, “[Networking is] about teaching and giving. Teaching people who you are… and what kind of opportunities to send your way. And it is about giving—listening so generously that you can also help people accomplish their goals.” And the best time to start building that network of mutually-beneficial contacts is before you need or want to utilize it.

There are three key avenues to consider when building your professional network:

Cultivate relationships around the workplace. The first place to start is with your coworkers, and when appropriate and available, your company vendors and clients. Building sincere, lasting relationships with colleagues can be paramount to your success both now in your current position and later down the road. Build relationships across departments and at all levels within the organization, and spend time getting to know the people who are the best at what they do.

Join professional societies and organizations related to your profession and/or industry. Pick one or two professional organizations and invest in them by taking on a leadership role. By serving in a chair-type capacity, you’ll become more visible and come in contact with a vast network of people. Also, at each event, take time to get to know one or two professionals, exchange contact information and stay in touch.

Get involved in a non-profit organization. This avenue is often overlooked but can be very important as you grow your career toward the executive level. Consider causes that are important to you and get involved by volunteering. Over time, as your participation increases and grows, doors of opportunity for networking will begin to open. Many not-for-profits offer exposure to C-level executives who sit on the boards of these organizations—a rare chance to be visible to and cultivate relationships with top executives. Aside from the professional benefits of volunteering, there’s immense intrinsic value in contributing to a worthwhile cause.

There are a number of ways to grow your professional network. What other avenues do you consider crucial to networking success?