When you think about networking, what first comes to mind? An “icky” networking event, working the room, perhaps even a used car salesperson? It’s these images of networking that can drive people to avoid it all together. This would be a great mistake for you and your career! There is no question that developing a network is extremely important to professional success. Merriam-Webster defines networking as “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” But how do you cultivate productive relationships that will help your career? First, don’t think about it in traditional terms. You must think more expansively and find a way to make it your own. Some phases to think about:
Identify your network
Everyone has a network. Think broadly. Your network not only consists of business colleagues from your current job and past positions, it also includes family members, people from the neighborhood, people from school, etc. Take a few minutes and write down the top 5-10 people that you most like, most connect with, that could most help you professionally. This exercise can help you to identify some people who you should reach out to for lunch or coffee to strengthen your relationships, and prevent them from going dormant. Most importantly, think about what you have to offer them -- as networking, when done right, is about connecting with people you like, that you can help that can help you, too.
Build your network
It is critically important to build both internal and external networks of people who can help you, advise you, and advocate for you within the workplace. Here are a few thoughts on how to accomplish this:
Use your network
Do not be afraid or embarrassed to use the network you have. While the hire decision ultimately should be based on qualitifications, hiring managers appreciate input from someone they trust, and may be more apt to consider those candidates before looking at the resumes of unknown strangers. It turns out, according to research done by LinkedIn, that it’s weaker connections that lead to job connections, so keep this in mind – you never know where that opportunity will come from.
When I think about my 20+ year career, many of my job interviews happened after someone I knew referred me to the hiring manager. In one case early in my career (pre-CDW), when I sent my resume initially, I did not get a call back – but when that same resume was sent by a family friend that was a trusted colleague of the hiring manager, I got an interview and ultimately the job. It didn’t get me the job, it just made sure I was seen and considered.
This advice does not just apply to new roles – it also applies to new experiences and assignments.
If there’s a new skill you want to learn, a department you want to shadow, a project you want to join, or a technology you are curious about – use your network to find someone to help you get that experience.
If the request is reasonable, rarely will you be told “no” when you ask someone else for help. It’s human nature to want to help others, and often it’s flattering to be asked to teach someone about your area of expertise.
Networking is really just meeting new people and being open to new points of view – so get out there and get networking!
Hilary is a Senior Counsel at CDW and Chair of our Business Resource Group, Women's Opportunity Network.