Start Building Your Networks Today

September 24, 2013


Newtowrking Critical Success Factor

Whether you are still in school or about to relaunch your career, few things will contribute more to your long-term success than building a series of personal and professional networks. The most recent economic downturn made this clear.

When the Great Recession of 2007 hit, employees who had invested time and effort building strong business networks came through largely unscathed. In most cases, they had developed a group of in-house advocates, people who ensured that certain jobs were protected. Among those who lost jobs, their personal networks provided immediate and critical emotional support. Oftentimes, those same networks pointed the way toward new job opportunities.

As to those who were just about to enter the workforce, their still nascent networks helped open magical doors and windows, sometimes leading to job offers and almost always stimulating new thinking about the world of work.

Yet, despite its importance, many people avoid networking. Believing that it involves little more than schmoozing, making ingratiating small talk for personal gain, some hate the very concept of building a network. Others believe they simply don’t possess natural networking talents. They’ve seen a co-worker casually walk into a room, immediately find an acquaintance, tell the perfect joke, and then move on to make yet another connection. Hesitant networkers watch these naturals with amazement and know “working a room” is just not what they do best.

If the thought of building a series of personal and professional networks overwhelms you, let’s simplify the whole process right now: networking involves nothing more than building a series of relationships. Think over the entirety of your life. If you’ve succeeded in building a relationship with one other person—a member of your little league soccer team, a classmate in high school, a member of your fraternity or sorority, another person at work or in your neighborhood—then you have all the skills you need to successfully build a network.


Three Necessary Networks

The most successful people around invest time building three equally Important but separate networks:

Operational - Identify a group of people in the office who can help you accomplish specific work-related tasks. When you need to complete a market segmentation analysis fast, who can help you identify the correct subsets of consumers and appropriate marketing strategies? When you hear about an enormous real estate deal, who can help you pull together a pitch that will position your law firm as the go-to legal services provider? When your smart phone suddenly goes on the blink, who can get you reconnected with the least amount of interruption?

Strategic - Identify a group of people who can help you work through your career goals and your strategies for accomplishing them. Who can explain both typical and atypical career paths and milestones against which you can measure your success?

Personal - Identify a group of people who can help you address issues in your personal life. When you’re uncertain whether you’re prepared to enter a race, who can you turn to for a gentle nudge? When a parent is suddenly diagnosed with a serious illness, who can help walk you through the options for his or her care?


Seek Specific Network Members

Anyone you encounter is a potential member for your network. However, you should consciously look for some very specific people who can perform clearly delineated functions, including:

Sponsors – someone in your corner who will be your champion and leverage his or her influence in a particular company, firm, or organization to ensure you receive assignments that give you the opportunity to shine. Oprah Winfrey may be the perfect example of a sponsor. Without her, Dr. Phil would still be offering trial advice in Texas and Rachel Ray would be chopping onions in a department store demo kitchen.

Mentors – people within an organization who will provide guidance as to how you can best accomplish tasks and assignments.

Independent insiders – people within an organization who have a fundamental understanding of where the organization is and where it’s going.
Connectors – people who are “sticky” because they know people who you should also know.
Dreamers – people who can help you imagine a future.
Pragmatists – someone who will keep you focused on what you can reasonably accomplish while you chase your dreams.
Workmates – people who will roll up their sleeves and help you accomplish your goals.
Students and new professionals will find that few activities contribute more to their long-term success than the efforts they undertake to consciously build a series of networks. This never occurs overnight. Successful networks require long-term nurturing and care. Start making the investment today.


What Do You Need to Know?

Successful students and new professionals build three networks (operational, strategic, and personal) and seek specific people for those networks (sponsors, mentors, independent insiders, connectors, dreamers, pragmatists, and workmates).



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