In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
It is the source of your next job… and the one after that. It might help you get a better deal on your next real estate purchase. If you want better investment advice, a recommendation on the best hotel for your impending vacation in Turkey, or even a suggestion for a great restaurant to take a high-profile client for dinner this Friday, the answer is already in one place: your network. As we have all heard, they key is not what you know, but who you know.
A network is “a group of people or organizations that are closely connected and that work with each other.” So what we call networking might better be labeled “building a network.” This is the process by which you create meaningful connections with others, maintain those relationships, and then connect those people with each other. It is a web, not simply a hub-and-spoke system, and building a network is critical to your success as a professional.
Adding someone to your personal network involves four discrete steps:
- Create a connection
- Give the connection a future
- Sustain the relationship
- Connect him/her to someone else in your network
Are you someone who hates networking? Do you consider yourself a poor networker? Think about which of these steps you resist. It is probably not maintaining meaningful relationships or connecting others in your network. It just might be that you dislike “networking events.” Most of us do not enjoy the pressure of wading through a mass of strangers in an unstructured environment (featuring cocktails and personal insecurities in inverse proportions), where we need to find the two or three people who can help us in our career. Then, once we find that needle in the haystack, we feel so awkward that we try to get that business card quickly, while clamoring for attention among the many other people trying to do the same, before exiting ASAP.
Yes, that is exhausting. But if you remember that building a network requires a web of connections, that could take some of the pressure off that important event you are attending this week, because in a network, you never know who will end up being useful. If you focus on creating meaningful human connections and then maintaining the resultant relationships, you will never be more than two or three degrees away from the opportunity you want. So instead of aiming like a heat-seeking missile for the few people you think will be important to you, consider establishing connections with everyone you meet. Set a goal to make ten new connections at an event, but do not establish any expectations about who those people will be. After all, you never know where that “random” connection might lead you…