A well-built professional network can open doors for you that a degree cannot. The main purpose of a professional network, for many, is to help open those doors, create introductions to others of differing influence, and become career mentors, but it is equally important to remember that your network is not a one way street of influence and aid in your career, and should never be treated as such. To make your network work for you, you need to stop viewing your network as an account you can endlessly draw from, and start treating it like an investment that you have to put into consistently- because it is.
At too many networking events to count, I’ve seen others walk around the room and simply make an introduction, pass out their card, and either walk away, or try to create an entire conversation about their business/work, instead of creating a collaborative moment that could benefit both parties. Much of the time, the folks that commit this networking crime are newer to networking, or simply don’t understand the power of creating a two-way connection and conversation and the fact that the recipient of the one-sided introduction can smell the BS right away. If you’re approaching someone to connect with them, whether reaching out at an event or at work, with the intent of just benefiting you, then you’re wasting both of your times. Whether it is conscious or not, approaching a potential connection with the mindset of “what can I get out of this” will set you up for failure every time. Instead, work to create collaborative connections with others and understand what you can give back to the other person- whether it be the information for a potential client, someone to bounce ideas off of, and even your product/service.
When I first started hitting my stride in building my local network, I found myself reaching a deadlock. I had a good network built, but it was no longer expanding at the rate it once was (and not for lack of me attending events and going around the rooms) and I felt as if I was having a lot of the same interactions as I always was. After attending several events in a row in one week, I realized why this was happening. I kept gravitating towards the tables where I knew I could feel comfortable and, unfortunately, where the majority of folks looked like me. Gravitating towards familiarity happens so commonly, even at a young ago, as a way to comfort our nerves and ease tensions, but it does not do you any good when you’re working to build a career and building a great network. Is the table you’re sitting at familiar to you, and not just in who you already know? Then start sitting at different tables.
The fortune is in the follow-up- and that doesn’t just go for sales. Everyone is busy, in fact, we seem to wear it as a badge of honor, but being so busy that you don’t follow up after a connection is made is a sure-fire way to allow that connection to flatline. While we all truly don’t have the time or budget to get lunch/drinks/coffee on a consistent basis with all our connections (although, that would be so nice), we all can make the time to connect for a bit on LinkedIn and chat over social media, or even send an occasional email to check-in. Maintaining a positive networking relationship doesn’t require a separate line item in your budget for each person, but it does require effort and putting yourself out there to that person on more than a yearly basis.
Building and maintaining a strong network can be tough, but what is even tougher is working towards success without a strong network to back you up. Putting the effort in to create collaboration, make authentic connections, and maintain contact and a relationship after the initial handshake, will pay off for you and your career tenfold. Put in the effort, make the deposits into this important investment, and watch your career soar.