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Building a strong network is so important in our professional success.  We are so much stronger when we are surrounded by people who support and advocate on our behalf.  Regardless of where you are currently at in your career, being strategic about who you are networking with can make all the difference in where you go from here.

So often our professional opportunities come around because of someone we have met along the way.  This can be difficult for people who are more introverted and do not want to spend endless uncomfortable evenings mingling with strangers hoping to get a business card that may or may not collect dust in a draw.  Networking doesn’t have to be this way, I promise!!  

Are you ready to build your network?

In this episode, we’ll discuss these things and more!

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this episode.  Are you trying to figure out what your vision of success is?

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TRANSCRIPT

Read the Episode Transcript Here:

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Hello, today we’re going to be talking about networking.  Always a popular topic, and some people get much more excited about this topic than others.  Who are you introverts out there? As a fellow introvert, I find networking to be exhausting…absolutely exhausting, but over the years I have come to appreciate the benefits of it as well.  And not minded it so bad and in bite-size pieces, so we’re going to look at networking in a very strategic way.

Like I mentioned, I’m an introvert and networking has not always been the most fun part of building my career but I’ve learned a bunch of different ways to build my network without always having to go to every social activity out there and spend hours and hours talking to personal space invaders and people that just ramble on or drink too many drinks.  I’m just not sure why they’re networking this way because they’re not putting themselves in a good light for their career.

Social mapping is an approach that you can use and is basically figuring out what types of people you need to have around you and how to build relationships with those people.  Really prioritizing who you should be building relationships with first and it’s kind of like stacking your friend deck, I get that, but everybody needs a champion. We all need advocates, we need a support network, we need a champion in our professional life…heck we need it in our personal life too, but that’s a different podcast.

For professional life you need a champion, you need someone that’s going to have your back and it’s always extra beneficial if that champion can be someone more senior than you or someone that can wield influence over promotions or possible positions in other areas that we might like in the future.  So the idea of social mapping is to really be intentional about who you’re spending your time with. We’re all busy and networking takes so much time.

Building long-standing, trusting, beneficial relationships with people take time so it’s not like you can go out every night of the week and network night after night, after night, drinking, eating, talking…I mean, folks, just the calories alone!  Let alone being exhausted when you have to get up the next day to go to work, right?

So that’s the first thing, being intentional about who you are including in your network.  Now look, I’m not saying that when others come to you to be their champion or advocate you should blow them off, right, I’m absolutely not saying that.  But that’s someone else’s network, let them worry about their network…we’re talking about your network.

When you are looking at your career trying to determine where you want to go and you have a strategy, say you want to move from one pillar of your organization to another, it’s nice to continue being friends and colleagues with the people on your team, you definitely need to do that.  But you also need to look to expand your network to people in that other pillar that will know you, that will get to understand what type of employee you are, recognize your skills and when the time comes to be able to say, hey I know that person- they are really good at ABC. The way we do that is somewhat targeted so when you’re looking at these types of moves that you want, maybe to change jobs completely and you’re just not sure what you want to do, look around people in your first, second, and third levels of contacts and figure out who would be the best person to offer you guidance or advice or support in those moves.  

And find ways to build a relationship with them, now that sounds really self-serving and it sounds like you’re using these people.  And if you are just going to look at it from the short-term perspective of -I need them to get me from point A to point B, I’m going to go and insinuate myself into their social networking group so that I can get what I want and then after that I’m just going to move on with my merry life…then yes, then you’re using them.  And I would argue that that is a mistake, because if you build a champion, even if they cannot directly impact your next step in your career they could still serve as a wealth of knowledge, a sounding board for different questions and concerns you have. They could just be a good friend and in business nowadays you can never have too many friends.

We talked about team on one of my other podcasts and how so many companies tout this culture of teamwork and it’s bananas because it just isn’t something that they’re really doing.  So it’s up to us as the employee, as the manager, as the director, to foster that type of environment. And building a network that is filled with supportive like-minded people to ourselves can really help improve that situation for us, right?  And I’m just talking about us right now and we’re being selfish, we’re thinking about our network, we’re thinking about our future and how building relationships with different people can get us there.

I say we’re being selfish because I assume that once you build relationships with these people it’s a push and pull, so if they have questions or something coming up in their life, if they’re helping you…I would hope that it would be reciprocated.  If they wanted help practicing for an interview or had some questions or you knew somebody that you could introduce them to.

So that leads to a very key point about these people that you’re surrounding yourself with.  

I had an acquaintance years ago that really wanted to come and work where I was working and we were friendly, I would say we were not necessarily networking buddies but we were friendly, grab a beer now and again in a group.  But as we were networking and you know, having conversations out over beer or coffee they were constantly complaining about their job, their co-workers, just a constant stream of negativity and blame. And just from my point of view, not someone that I would want to recommend for a job.  So this puts you in a tricky position, right, because they’re in your network, you become friends with them and they’re supportive of you and now they’re asking you to support them directly as it impacts you.

Because if you recommend someone that’s going to come in and do a lousy job, that reflects on you, so you do have to be careful about this.  I’m not saying ditch them as a friend, I mean we were still social and perhaps you talk to this person and say, I don’t know if that position is the right position for you and you explain the complexity of the position and how based on what you understand from them and their preferences in the workplace, this will be someplace they will be unhappy.  That may work, that may not, you know, there’s a whole bunch of different ways to handle that but they’re all really touchy because you don’t want to come across as being self-serving, but at the same time you also don’t want to screw yourself. Because you’re bringing this person that is going to reflect badly on you, perhaps you want to say the job has been filled.

You know there are all kinds of opinions about the “little white lie”, some people are more comfortable with it than others, you could just say it looks like that position was pulled or it was held for the boss who had somebody already picked out for it.  So it’s up to you on how you want to handle that, but I would be considerate of the friends that you can learn from.

Then, anybody that you can include in your networking circle that you can learn from and you can grow with, that’s a great person to have in your circle.  And hopefully…I know in the beginning I said this was all about us, but hopefully and most likely there are going to be people in this group that your skills can benefit so it’s not just a one-way relationship where you are deriving all the benefit.  

Think about the different skills that you have, that you are really good at those are things that other people could benefit from learning from you.  If there are people coming up to you and trying to build a relationship with you, consider that they are looking to you because you’ve got something they would love to learn or you’ve got connections they would like to build.  At the end of the day our network, in my opinion is as important as our technical skills, our writing skills, our speaking skills, our negotiating skills. All of those things, who you know and the types of relationships you have with them, hopefully they’re strong and true and genuine and they’ll help you go far in your career.  

One thing to be conscious about are the toxic people that we know and making sure that if we have those kinds of toxic people in our network, everybody’s got them, but you, know I don’t know what your connections are to these people and why they’re in your network.  I know why mine have been in my network in the past and it’s not always easy to just cut them off and move on, for a whole host of reasons, perhaps you’re related, perhaps you’ve always been best friends, perhaps they’ve helped you out in the past and it’s kind of one of those…I feel obligated situations.  I’m not saying that you have to cut them out altogether, but toxic relationships can really affect your network and infect your network if you allow them.

So perhaps those kinds of relationships need to be in a separate branch when you’re mapping out your social network of the positive influences that you want to leverage to grow your career or grow as a person.  Those toxic relationships should be in an offshoot that should not commingle with the rest unless you absolutely have to. Because you don’t want that to affect all of the hard work and time and effort that you put into building a really solid network.  And all it takes is one really bad experience folks, and now you’re back to square one, and you’re trying to repair big damage.

And the last thing you want to do is screw up your career because of a toxic relationship.  Just something to bear in mind when you are figuring out the strategic mapping of your network.  So go out there and take a look at who you’re interacting with, maybe over a cup of coffee or a beer tonight sit down, make a list of the different places that you can build your network, think about all the people you know or people you don’t know but are aware of and would like to get to know, and figure out ways that you can get to know them.

I’m not talking about chasing them down and stalking them on social media, showing up at the golf club and asking them to be your friend, I’m just talking about finding little ways to get on their radar.  Figure out a plan…map it out and give yourself a month, maybe try to identify three people this month that you want to be friends with or that you want to bring into your network. Some of them may not want to be your friend and that’s okay, but others will and those are the ones you want in your network anyway.  So go forth and build out your network. I wish you all the best luck.

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