Building Your Career Network - One Connection at a Time
I cannot overemphasize the importance of building your professional network. It is truly foundational for a successful and fulfilling career. For some of you, the thought of “networking” may bring visions of awkward mix-and-mingle affairs. (Remember these, pre-covid?!) Events where you’d rather spend your time poking your eyes out than desperately searching for something to say that doesn’t make you sound like a loser. Okay, I admit, I’m talking about me…but seriously…this has happened to others, right?? (In fairness, over the years I’ve learned to enjoy most networking events, especially when I’ve succeeded at my “find a friend fast” tactic.)
If the “stereotypical” networking approach doesn’t appeal to you, you’ll be happy to know that making connections is really at the heart of building your network. For me, making connections among ideas, opportunities, teams and most importantly – among people - is an absolute joy and happens to be one of my superpowers. I don’t believe I’m genetically pre-disposed to being great at making connections but rather I consistently practice the following:
I believe in the possibility and power of connection in all things.
I am committed to seeking it out.
I do so in a way that feels most authentic for me.
There are many ways to connect with people, in addition to networking events. The key is to find your favourite ways and invest in them regularly. Some of my favourite ways to build connections include:
Reaching out (via a friend, email, LinkedIn, other social media) to interesting people and asking if they’d be willing to share a specific part of their story or knowledge in a 30-minute zoom/call/meeting. (Tip: Identify the greatness you see in them. They may not be aware of it!)
Saying yes when someone reaches out asking to hear my story or learn from me.
Including “the ability to diversify my network” as part of my decision criteria for taking on any new role or opportunity.
Giving back through volunteering, mentoring, interviewing, and coaching.
Intentionally sharing my professional network with others.
When reaching out to others…
Your mindset matters - always!
What are you thinking when you reach out to someone? How are you feeling about it? Are you more anxious about them being busy or not responding to you than you are excited about the possibility of connecting? What if they’d love to hear from you? Know that it is normal to feel a bit vulnerable. Find the courage to do it anyway! You are always your best self when you are authentic. Add to that a willingness to be open and curious and you’ll create powerful energy in which to form a relationship.
You don’t need to be formal, but you should always be intentional.
I suggest you start by asking yourself the following 3 questions:
What do I want from this interaction?
What might the other party want?
What am I willing and able to offer that would be of value to them?
Engage with the intent to build a mutually beneficial connection rather than to “conduct a transaction”. For example, if you reach out to me wanting a job or offering me a product, this is more likely to be transactional. It speaks to my head. If you reach out to me wanting to learn and grow or share and give, this has the potential for real connection. It speaks to my heart.
Always know that your perspective and experience is uniquely valuable, regardless of who you are speaking with. You always have something amazing to offer.
Be ready and willing to share your power story – read my blog here on how to craft one!
Don’t wait for formal programs to facilitate connections.
Make it a regular practice that you own and manage throughout your career. Get creative, be willing to make the first move and most importantly, have fun with it.
When deciding who you need in your network…
Take stock of who you already have.
First and foremost, be sure to take stock of who you already have in your network. There is often so much value in simply being more intentional and invested in the connections we have already made. I recommend making a list of all the people in your life that in some way play a role in your career. These could be people you work, volunteer, or play sports with (currently or in the past); people you engage with on social media; authors or podcasters; and of course, friends and family members.
For each of these people, consider what role they currently play in your career. (Note: These roles do not always have to be set up “formally” to exist.) Are they a mentor, sponsor, teacher, or coach? Do you have a mentor that might be willing to also be your sponsor? (Perhaps by sending a recommendation to a hiring manager for a role you’ve applied to?) Which of them hold space for you to be vulnerable, angry or frustrated? Who stands ready to remind you of how great you are when you forget? Who pushes you to do more than you think is possible? Who helps you deepen your technical or subject matter expertise? Which of these people do you give to in addition to receiving from? In what ways are you giving to them? What role might you be playing for them?
Once you’ve taken initial stock of your existing network, I encourage you to look more closely at the amount of diversity you have within it. This is often where you’ll find the most opportunity to grow your network in a powerful and intentional way. Having diversity of perspectives, knowledge and lived experiences will not only stretch your learning and growth, it also sets you up with significantly more possibilities and support for your future interests and endeavours. Do you have people from different companies and/or industries? Are different levels of experiences and leadership represented – students, executives, entrepreneurs? What about a mix of different types of lived experiences – racial, gender, economic diversity? How much of your network is aligned to your current job vs job/career options you may be thinking of moving to in the short or longer term?
If you identify a gap in your existing network, re-read the beginning of this blog to get ideas on how to close it. The two most powerful ways I’ve found:
Identify people in your network who can connect you to people that aren’t in your network – they may be able to play the role of a “connector” for you. (Be a connector for others!)
Give, give, give of yourself and your time in a way that feels authentic and easy for you.
Always seek your greatness, your unique offering for others, and be generous with it. I’ve found the returns to consistently be unexpected, plentiful and priceless.
If you need help finding your confidence to make connections and share your power story in a way that lands you that next big job or expands your network in meaningful and lasting ways, be sure to check out my Get Unstuck coaching program here.
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