Cultivating Your NetworkBy Jennifer Silvester
Layoffs are all over the news this year, at least in the tech sector with tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Meta leading the headlines. Almost everyone knows someone who has been impacted by these layoffs. Within the tech sector, the expectation is that the downsizing is likely to continue as the industry corrects itself. At the same time, we are still faced with massive talent shortages and a historically low unemployment rate in January of 3.4% nationwide and in some states, like Utah, it is as low as 2.2%.
It is difficult, even anxiety inducing, to predict what might come next in the economy and how it will impact you, your company, and your industry. Instead of focusing on trying to predict the future, we suggest you take this as a reminder to invest that precious time and energy instead into your network.
THE THREE TYPES OF NETWORKING
Not only is proactive networking going to help you when you are on the hunt for your next role, it can also make you more effective in your current role and create more career fulfillment. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are three types of networking: operational, personal, and strategic. Understanding and utilizing all three is the key to making the most of your networking time and effort.
While you may not think of it as traditional networking, building an internal operational network within your current company is key to getting the job done well and efficiently. This kind of networking is the bread and butter of inclusive and collaborative work.
No one is an island, and that’s especially true in the business world. Working proactively to know your organization and its various players within it will not only deepen your understanding of the company and provide exposure, you will be prepared to harness the multitude of strengths, skill sets, and experiences from across the organization to solve tough challenges and perform at your best.
This type of networking is how most people think of professional networking because it is primarily external to your current company. It can be dangerous to rely solely on an internally focused network. In personal networking your success comes from connecting with others through outside groups with shared interests or responsibilities. These might include professional associations, alumni groups, educational groups, and other communities. These networking sources allow you to keep a pulse on your industry or function’s trends, gain perspective, and learn from colleagues in similar roles and facing similar challenges. You may even find a mentor.
This is the area of networking that often goes most neglected because it can be time consuming and even awkward for some. It involves personal connections and often in-person events to be effective. Many leaders question or deprioritize it because it has no direct impact on their success today. There is always something more important to be working on than attending a conference or lunch.
To be effective in external networking, it is helpful to scan for opportunities that seem most valuable and put them on your calendar well in advance. Do not leave opportunities like these to chance, they will never win the day of contest. For example, set a personal commitment or goal to attend at least one of these events each month. The best and least talked about benefit of going to an external networking event is that you can actually become more productive and fulfilled in your job. When you have an opportunity to collaborate and learn from others with shared experiences, everything just feels better.
As managers move on to become senior leaders, strategic networking becomes a paramount skill in driving results. Strategic networking is essentially being able to call on a broad network to stay informed of a changing landscape, know early about organizational or industry priorities, and build influence and connections with and for to help you achieve goals.
Strategic networking is sometimes thought of as “playing politics”, but this would be a mistake for an emerging leader. To be an influential leader who drives positive change and results, you must be on top of the issues and be capable of figuring out where to enlist the necessary stakeholders to get things done. The more senior your role in an organization, the more dependent you will be on others to achieve results.
The three types of networking are not mutually exclusive and certainly have a lot of overlap. The most critical success factor is just being consistent and making time for all kinds of networking. Do not wait until you have an urgent need. Treat your network as a living, breathing thing that needs to be nurtured and cared for each day.
EASY STEPS TO NURTURE & GROW YOUR NETWORK
Great networkers know that when they genuinely seek to help others, they help themselves. Instead of reaching into your network only when you need help, always be on the lookout for opportunities to connect members of your network together. Be sure the introduction will be mutually appreciated, but otherwise most professionals really appreciate the care someone shows to take the time to create these introductions. This may also take the form of inviting someone to a dinner or conference you are attending where you know you’ll be able to give them exposure or opportunity.
Yes, use LinkedIn but wisely
Just clicking “connect” on LinkedIn profiles of the people you’ve met is not networking and certainly will not lead you to your next great position or deal. You need to engage with people.
Use LI features such as InMails to send a follow-up after you have made an in-person connection. If it works for you, posting and replying to others posts regularly about things that matter to you, relevant industry information, or just being supportive of others is a great way for your network to feel connected and better understand who you are.
LinkedIn is a great tool but should not replace personal connections in-person or even via the phone or Zoom. You should also manage your LI time wisely, when you spend too much time there, people might assume you do not take care of your “real” job responsibilities. And it goes without saying, LinkedIn conversations should always be professional, appropriate, and relevant to the world of work and industry.
Blend your personal interests with professional activities
Sales teams and executives do this all the time but rarely do emerging leaders consider the value of inviting a colleague, client, or mentor to an event outside of the workday. A brilliant mentor of mine used to host a quarterly executive women’s meet-up at a local restaurant. She would invite a group of about 30 female professionals of all ages and varied experiences to get together and … well network! Another example might be saving a few games of your family’s season tickets to a professional sports team and invite colleagues or professionals you would like to get to know better.
Create a disciplined approach
Another way to ensure you put the priority on networking that it deserves is to create a dedicated, disciplined approach together that will work for you. One colleague used to spend every Friday morning reaching out to 10 people he thought he could be of service to. Another commits to attending at least one networking event each month. I have also heard of small behavioral commitments such as making an effort to sit at a table where you do not know anyone at networking events, or going in with a goal to meet with a certain number of people (or even specific people you have researched in advance). As the saying goes, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.”
When you are thinking about your desired career growth and security, make sure proactively networking is being treated as an essential part of your strategy. You cannot predict the future, but you can prepare for it by building strong networks, coalitions, and groups of talented professionals who will be a resource and may even play an instrumental role in your success.