Career & Work Life Matters, ISSN 2150-6299, Vol 5, no. 6
Develop your Professional Network by Applying What you Already Know
You know more than you think about networking, even if you believe you’re not naturally good at it. Read this issue to learn how to apply what you’ve learned from your experience to enhancing your networking skills.
|Image(c): Alvaro Cabrera|
Networking and Career Change
How did your find your most recent position? According to the 2014 JobVite labor force survey, four in ten employees in the US found their “best” or “favorite” job through personal connections. Even if this is not true for you, if you ask colleagues and friends about their experience of changing jobs, the chances are that their anecdotal evidence will confirm that networking had an impact.
Yet, despite more and more technological ways of staying connected, building and maintaining a professional network continues to be an obstacle for many professionals. There are many reasons we neglect networking. These range from the challenge of prioritizing a non-urgent activity to feeling unsure about where to begin and what to do.
So where should you start if you’re a new or infrequent networker, or haven’t invested much time in it since the last time you made a change in your career?
Identify what you already know.
A good place to begin is with what you already know. Take a few minutes to explore current or former successful professional relationships. Identify four to six people with whom you feel like you established a successful relationship. Jot down some notes about these relationships and what you feel made or makes them successful. The questions below may help.
- How and where did you initially meet (e.g. context of your meeting, how you connected, etc.)?
- What do you have in common (e.g. experience, interests, school attended, etc.)?
- How did/do you stay in touch?
- What do you value about this relationship?
- What do you know about what the other person values?
Creating New Connections
Exploring the early stages of relationships you have already established can provide insight into how you typically connect with people. Given the complexity of human relationships and individual differences in temperament, interests, and values, formulaic approaches to networking are unlikely to be very helpful. But first steps often include finding an area of common ground and a context that facilitates the development of trust.
How can you apply these principles to your own networking plans? What did you learn from your own experience? Did you meet most of the members in your network in current or former places of work? Maybe you connected with individuals through a common interest, such as your love of a particular sport , or through involvement in shared activity, such in your children’s school. If you build on naturally occurring events and personal interests, your efforts are more likely to be sustainable.
Keeping the Connection Going
Did you identify some long term relationships in the list your created? Adding new people to your network is one part of the process. But where many of us fall down is “keeping up” with people. What emerged when you explored your successful relationships? If you look more closely at some of your longer term professional relationships, you will probably notice that they are characterized by a two-way exchange. Over time, reciprocity is an important factor for maintaining professional relationships. Although it makes sense to maximize your networking efforts by being strategic, it’s also important to avoid a one-way street by keeping the principle of reciprocity in mind.
Of the 1303 employed adults included in the JobVite survey mentioned at the beginning of this article, more than half (51%) stated that they were either actively seeking, or open to, a new job. You may be working on building your own network, but there’s a strong chance that you will encounter opportunities to also support others in their career.
|Jennifer Bradley 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 writes about career development and career transition. If you’re new to the Career & Work Life Matters Blog, and would like to discover more about your personal career management skills, request a Free copy of the Career Scorecard.|