One of my favorite songs in the musical Hamilton is Guns and Ships. While the song starts by talking about Lafayette, it soon changes to being a song about Lafayette telling George Washington that he needs to get his “right-hand man” back at his side and into the war if he wants to win. In fact, George Washington learned of Lafayette, who was instrumental in winning the Revolutionary War, initially through Hamilton.
Networking is not just about who you know; it’s about having the right people in your network who can help you achieve your ultimate goals. Part of any strategy for advancing, transitioning, or elevating your career, making an impact, or amplifying your influence, must include networking.
When I initially started my career as a lawyer, I was horrible at networking. It felt contrived and forced. I knew it was something I needed to do, but I would either hover around the food or stick with the folks I knew every time I attended a meeting, conference, or event. I think it is how most people think of networking. It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert because as an extrovert, I still sucked at networking.
It wasn’t until I became a mom, and particularly when I became a single mom, that I became a master networking, but I didn’t know it at the time. I connected with other moms for playdates, carpools, football and violin practices, organizing potlucks and activities as a room parent, etc. I went out of my way to meet other parents because, as a mom, you want to create the best possible support network that will ultimately benefit your kiddos.
Through that experience, I learned that women, and particularly moms, are natural networkers. However, when it comes to advancing our careers, positioning or leveraging our knowledge and skills, or wielding our influence and power for the right business or career opportunity, we freeze like a deer caught in headlights. Even though a LinkedIn study found that 80% of professionals consider networking important for their career success, less than half actually do it effectively.
Much like many of us have built powerful networks for the sake of our families, it’s time we start creating, nurturing, and developing the right connections to grow and advance our careers.
1. Start with who you know.
In a recent Forbes article, my fellow Coaches Council members and I shared 15 networking strategies the average person is not using to their advantage. I suggested that a great place to start building your network is by tapping into your personal network of family and friends.
Maybe your sister-in-law is on the PTA with another mom who happens to be the CEO of an organization you've been trying to make a business connection with. Maybe your bestie attends a yoga class with a member you've been unable to reach through LinkedIn. Or maybe your brother plays basketball with the head of a non-profit you want to do some fundraising with.
Starting with who you know is the easiest and simplest way to start building your network. On average, we all have about 250 people in our network and are more likely only a few degrees of connection away from that key person that makes a difference in your career.
2. Attend conferences and industry events.
Just because events have moved to the digital space doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be attending and actively participating in meeting and connecting with other members. Virtual breakouts are the best way to form genuine connections that you can develop further later.
When I attend events, I reach out to the other participants and reach out to the speakers. Virtual events make it easier to connect with speakers than ever before because you’re not waiting in some long line to converse with them. You can connect within the event or hop over to LinkedIn and connect with them personally, mentioning that you enjoyed their talk and have a few follow-up questions about their presentation. Most speakers are happy to share more and appreciate the feedback on their talk.
Attending conferences and events not only keeps you knowledgeable on industry standards and trends but also presents an opportunity to connect with you, someone who could propel your career forward or help you achieve a professional goal or aspiration.
3. Know your networking style.
Everyone has a natural networking style based on their strengths and personality. Understanding your natural reactions in different situations and recognizing other people’s networking styles can ultimately improve confidence and outcomes.
For example, do you prefer to engage in conversations that get straight to the point, are informal and social in nature, with just one person at a time, or do you like to really listen to others talk and comment when you really have something to say?
How you interact in these types of situations can be tied back to your strengths and personality. Someone more confident and take-charge will network differently from someone who’s a friendly people-person or even analytical, composed, and observant.
Consider how you usually build rapport and have made friends and connections in the past to give you clues so that you can network not only more effectively but more authentically.
4. Network inside your organization.
One of the misconceptions about networking is that you only need to engage in networking if you’re looking to leave your position. While it’s a useful strategy for those seeking to make a career transition, you don’t want to make the mistake of waiting until you’re in the process of making a career shift to start networking.
A perfect place to start networking outside of your family and friends is in your organization. Making connections inside of your organization will not only serve you well when it comes time to potentially getting a raise, seeking promotion, or even transferring to a new area but could also prove useful when you’re ready to leave the organization entirely. Your coworkers and work colleagues are connected to people inside the organization and throughout your community and other institutions that may be important to you for various reasons.
If you’re working remotely, networking can also help to increase your visibility within the organization. It’s also easier to network when working remotely because you can hop on the phone or Zoom call without disrupting your workday's regular flow.
5. Play the long game.
One of the great benefits of networking is that the more you step outside your comfort zone to meet new people, the more confidence you’ll have in your social and communicative skills. It will also help you get over any fears you may have about talking about yourself or what you do. Career growth comes from putting yourself out there and taking bold, decisive action.
In fact, you’ll become more self-assured around who you are, what you do, and what you offer to the world. The personal and professional benefits of networking on your self-esteem are something that will support you for a lifetime, not to mention the vulnerability and bravery of allowing your network to support you in achieving your career aspirations.
So think about networking as a long-game activity, not just something you’ll do situationally or for a brief moment in time.
Networking is a proven method to advance your career; however, the added benefits to your social and communication skills, as well as your confidence and self-esteem, should make it a daily habit. Once you make key connections, it’s important to nurture and solidify those relationships. Networking will help you break free from your comfort zone and clearly see what you have to offer and how you can be a resource to others. It’s an opportunity for expansion and growth if you create a strategy and reframe your mindset.
If this resonates with you and you'd like to network with a group of other amazing professional women who are elevating and advancing their careers, join us here.