If you’ve ever thought “I should network more” — but you’re not yet taking your own best advice — this article is for you.
There are many reasons professionals neglect networking even when they agree that a strong professional network is important for their current and future career. Whether you are getting started building your professional network, or simply want to get back on track, apply the three steps below for easier and more effective networking.
1. Make it Personal by Clarifying your Personal Purpose for Networking
So why is networking important for your career? Here are some of the ways your professional network can help. If you are well connected to others you have more access to information, opportunities, and resources. Whether you’re searching for a new job, interested in career change, or want to advance within your profession, you can’t do it alone. You need the support of members of your network.
But understanding generic benefits may not be enough. Because networking takes time and effort, it’s important to think about your personal motivation. This will help you make it a priority. Begin by spending a few minutes clarifying why it’s worth it to you to invest the time it takes to create and nurture your professional relationships.
What do you envision for the next step of your career? For example, do you want to get promoted? Do you want to expand your experience by working in a different department or with a different type of client? You don’t need to limit yourself to work-related goals. Consider also your personal goals. Do you want to take better care of your health? Write down the things that are most important to you personally.
Once you have brainstormed your ideas, choose one or two things to focus on first. Make a note and keep it somewhere you see it every day, such as your calendar, planner, or online notebook. This will help you to stay focused.
2. Choose the Best Approach to Networking by Building on your Strengths and Preferred Style
There is no “one right way” to network. Set yourself up for success by finding an approach that fits with your temperament, style and goals, as well as what you want to achieve. Be strategic.
The good news is that even if you are just getting started you already know a lot. Think of how long you have been building relationships. All of your life.
Begin by analyzing what you already know from your personal experience of developing successful relationships. Build on what you know works for you. List 6 – 10 people with whom you have relationships that are satisfying and you regard as successful.
For each person, ask some simple questions:
- How did the relationship begin?
(e.g. We worked on a project together)
- How does this person contribute to you?
(e.g. Good at reducing tension when the team is under pressure)
- How do you think the relationship benefits the other person?
(e.g. I help them see things more strategically)
Now for your insights. Review your notes.
What stands out? What patterns do you notice? If you’re not sure about what your contribute or what others value about their relationships with you, begin to ask. You may be surprised.
Now that you have clarified why networking is important to you and analyzed some of your existing successful relationships, you’re ready for the third step for a stronger start to sustainable networking. By anticipating what might get in your way, you’ll increase your chances of success.
3. Anticipate your Personal Obstacles to Networking (Internal and External) and Put A Strategy in Place
Do you ever have these types of thoughts about networking?
- Networking is difficult and distasteful.
- I’m not the networking type.
- I’m just too busy doing what I have to do, let alone find time to network.
If you think things like this, you’re not alone. When I support professionals with their career change and job search we discuss many of the internal and external obstacles to networking. We all have our own version of “things that get in the way.” But once you understand your biggest barriers, you can work with them. You can put a strategy in place so that they don’t derail your efforts.
Start with the internal obstacles. Awareness is the first step.
Take a sheet of paper or open a file on your computer.
Set your timer for 10 minutes and write your response by completing the following sentence:
- When I think about networking, what comes to mind is: ……….
Write whatever comes to mind and keep writing.
Don’t censor yourself. Now choose one or two items from your list to begin working with. Create your personal antidote, by, for example, reframing an existing belief or perception.
Say, one of the things you wrote down was “I’m not the networking type,” begin to examine that view. Ask yourself this question: “What else might be true?”
Examples might be:
- Networking skills can be learned.
- I can draw what I know from relationships I have built in the past.
Creating your personal list of alternative perspectives will open up some possibilities for you. Next, identify the external obstacles that you think will get in your way.
One of the most common obstacles that professionals talk about is time. But if you wait until you have time, the chances are nothing will change. Given that you have decided networking is a priority for you, what creative solutions can you come up with to make it easier?
Examples might be:
- Pairing it with something you already do each week so that you remember
- Choosing in advance who you will contact
- Setting up a contacts management system (online CRM) to manage your information more efficiently.
Summary: Why Professionals Need to Network
Without a network you’re less likely to know what is going on in your company, or to hear about opportunities.
If you wait until you have time, you may never get started. If you wait until networking is urgent – because now you need a new job – your search will be more stressful than it needs to be. So don’t let that happen to you.
Nobody likes to think about job loss. It’s stressful and affects many areas of your life. But it can and does happen. Often for reasons that are outside of your control. Losing your job may be nothing to do with your career performance.
Just think how much easier it will be to bounce back if you know you have a network you can rely on to help you and open doors to new opportunities. Even if your career change is planned, members of your network can provide invaluable support.
Make your professional networking easier and more effective with these three steps:
- Make it personally meaningful by clarifying your purpose
- Choose an approach that sets you up for success by building on your strengths and preferred style
- Feel more confident knowing that you are prepared to manage the internal and external obstacles
Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 7, no. 2
Jennifer Bradley, PhD helps professionals lead their own careers, empowered with the information, tools, and resources that they need. She offers individual coaching and consulting, teaches classes, and publishes articles on career development and career transition.
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