Oh yes, networking, the one thing everyone keeps talking about no matter the industry. While the topic might be a bit worn out between Ted Talks and business conferences, let’s face it, networking skills will always play a significant role in our career paths. So the question is, are you networking the right way?
Plenty of professionals often get it wrong by thinking that growing a professional network is about handing out a million business cards or adding whoever you come across to your social media channels. A better way to go about it is to bring strong, strategic, and genuine relationships into your professional network.
Let’s get into it!
How often do you treat your networking as something functional? Meaning, you only look to work with the people inside and outside the company that can help you accomplish a task. Growing your professional network does need to have a strategic goal. But if your only purpose is to find contacts that will help you solve short-term issues, like an editor that can get their magazine talking about your company, what you are doing is not strategic, but reactive networking.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with seizing spontaneous connections, as long as this is not the only way you network. These reactive moments should be a result of your consistent and committed networking efforts, which take time and vision.
Not connecting with people solely for functional purposes is not the same as randomly and obsessively trying to connect with everyone or just anyone. Let’s use LinkedIn as an example, people try to buff up their network by adding whoever, but the thing is, you do need to value the connections you make as if they were a golden ticket.
Just don’t let your ego get in the way. Valuable connections don’t just come in the form of managers and thought leaders of your industry. You can also connect with fresher talent who show great potential. Remember, one of the gains of having a network is to learn and stay updated, which you can get from seasoned professionals and rising pioneers.
Pro tip: Who you follow is also part of your professional network.
One of the best networking tips you’ll ever receive is that a strong professional network is as much about what you get out of it as what you bring into it. Another issue with treating your network as a functional tool or expanding your connections just for the sake of it, is that you come across as hungry. And, in this context, that is not something you want to be known for.
Relevant, respectful, and mutually beneficial relationships come first, having a successful professional network is a natural result of that.
If you are aware of how valuable it is to have a network, you need to remember that you are also part of someone else’s network for a reason. Either because of your expertise, knowledge, or potential. So be mindful of that, embrace it, and become an active member of your network by adding value. This is where genuine personal branding comes into play.
People often talk about how to look good or impress your potential clients or employers through personal branding. Yet, following the approach of providing value, your goal when voicing out your opinions on LinkedIn or being a guest speaker at a conference shouldn’t be about looking good, but to give insight or serve a community based on your own knowledge and experience.
With clear values, voice, and vision of the role you play in your industry, you’ll go from forcefully trying to stand out to having an outstanding reputation.
If you keep up a strategic and genuine approach to building relationships, then leveraging your professional network when you need backup shouldn’t be a problem. For instance, asking for a recommendation letter, or getting a colleague or former client to be your reference when you are on your quest to find a job.
However, think of what you’ve learned so far. Instead of using your network reactively when you need them, keep using a constant, strategic, and mutually beneficial approach. For example, don’t wait until you begin your job search to ask for references.
Next time you collaborate with someone, either inside or outside of your organization, ask for a review or recommendation once the project is done. You can do this through LinkedIn recommendations or any other professional platform that hosts your portfolio, like your personal website.
Remember to take the lead as well through your own actions. Whenever you feel like someone else in your network is doing an outstanding job, feel free to give them a recommendation or LinkedIn review. Not because they asked for it, simply because they deserve it. Being proactive with your professional network by also helping your network grow shows that you are being strategic and genuine.
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