One of the most important self-management practices, for success in both career and life, is to build an effective network. In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing, global economy, finding a job and building a career is as much about who you know as it is about what you know. Additionally, both research and practice demonstrate that we are better off developing mentoring networks of people who are willing to help us to achieve our goals, than to rely on one person to do it all. As Adam Grant notes in his book Give and Take, effective networks provide access to private information, diverse skills, and power. And while not everyone in your network will serve as a mentor to you, your mentors most certainly should be and will be in your network.
But how does one go about building an effective network? The good news is that anyone can do this work with practice, patience, and persistence. Network-building, ultimately, is relationship-building. If you start from that perspective, and maintain a healthy curiosity about other people, then building your network becomes a process of developing intentional relationships with the people you encounter every day. And that is a skill that you will take with you, no matter where you go.
Here are 10 more tips for building an effective network:
Have a purpose or a goal. Be intentional about which individuals you want to connect with and why. If you are attending an event, do your research and find out who will be in the room and identify the people you really want to meet. Your goal should not be to meet everyone in the room but to identify three or four people with whom you can have a meaningful interaction.
Practice your “elevator pitch.” Be able to answer the questions “What do you do?” and “What do you want to do?” in no more than a couple of sentences. The clearer that you are about what you are working towards, the more helpful that others can be in your achievement of those goals.
Listen more than you talk. Ask questions, and then truly listen to the answers. Resist the temptation to interrupt and talk over the other person. This is your opportunity to soak up valuable information, knowledge, and resources from this person who is willingly giving them to you. Respect her by giving her your full attention.
Be strategic about joining groups. Research the key professional associations you should join, either for your current or desired position or industry. Attend regional or national meetings and conferences that are sponsored by these groups. Get involved in your community through volunteer and other civic organizations.
Volunteer. If the idea of approaching a room full of strangers gives you night sweats, seek out opportunities to volunteer at events. This puts you in the room in an official capacity, with something constructive to do, but still allows you to meet and mingle with those in the room.
Start with the people you know. Imagine reaching out to a total stranger, inviting him to lunch, and talking to him about his career path and interests. Now imagine doing the same thing with your best friend, parent, or mentor. Easier, right? Start with the people you know. Not only will this help you develop your network-building skills in a safe environment, but you never know the contacts you will gain from talking to the people who are closest to you. (Trust me, your parents know people, too.)
Ask for informational interviews. Be intentional about seeking out people to add to your network. Come prepared with five or six open-ended questions about her job description, career path, the work environment, and the industry. Don’t forget to bring a copy of your resume and to ask for recommendations of other people you should meet.
Follow-through and follow-up. Send a note to those you have met, remind them of where you met, your interests, and most importantly, thank them for taking the time to speak with you. Put a note in your calendar to periodically check in with your contacts so that you will stay fresh in their minds. And, when someone offers to connect you with one of their contacts, follow through and follow up!
Don’t be shy, don’t be pushy. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to talk about his career, interests, and passions. Most people will be honored to be asked! But, if someone turns you down, simply thank him for his time and move on. Some people are just too busy or not interested in helping another person with her career path. Let it go. The most important person to have in your network is the one who genuinely wants to help you.
Find a mentor (or two, or three). As stated earlier, not everyone in your network will be a mentor to you. This type of relationship requires a much greater investment of time and energy than most of your contacts will be able to provide. A mentor certainly can and should be in your network and can even help guide you as you develop your network. A mentor has a vested interest in you, your success, and your growth, and makes a commitment to see you through.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that no one will ever care about your growth and development as much as you. It is up to you to take responsibility for your own path. If you want someone to be part of your network, remember that it is on YOU to make that happen. Don’t expect other people to bring you with them. Make it your responsibility to bring them with you. Be a connector, and watch your network grow.