A strong network is like money in the bank. Your network can help you build visibility, connect you with influencers, and open up doors for new opportunities. Building and nurturing a network is one of the most powerful things you can do to support your career advancement. Yet often, our networking efforts are just social, haphazard, and as a result, ineffective. You make friends and connections, however, these people are not always in a position to help you further your career or most importantly, they may not be willing to speak for you.
Here are seven ways to build social capital to support your career advancement:
1. Network Proactively.
Networking proactively is important. What happens if you don’t have a strong network, and suddenly you lose your job? If you don’t have a network to tap into, you’re out of luck. It will most likely take you much longer to find a new position. And how can you get information about a hiring manager or new boss if you don’t have a network of people to provide that information?
Networking proactively provides an advantage by supporting you with a powerful collection of people who are willing and able to speak for you on an ongoing basis. The network is there for you when you need it because you’ve built the social capital.
2. Be Strategic.
Strategic networking is more than socializing and swapping business cards, it’s creating solid relationships to support your career aspirations. It takes focus and intention to build such a network, but it’s invaluable for your professional development.
Women’s failure to network strategically is one of the career pitfalls cited by Barbara Annis and Associates in their White Paper, Solutions to Women’s Advancement.
“While men network for transactional reasons, women will network for relational reasons. That is, men will network to obtain something, while women network for relationships and connections.”
Identify who you know and who you need to know to help you reach your career goal and build a power network to support your advancement.
3. Create Multiple Networks.
In order to network effectively, you need to move out of your comfort zone and identify people who can help your career, not just those people you like.
Research from University of Chicago Booth School of Business on this topic confirms the importance of a diverse network. “Indeed, it might not be who or what you know that creates advantage, but rather more simply, who you become by dint of how you hang out—the disadvantaged hang out with folks just like themselves, while the advantaged engage folks of diverse opinion and practice.”
Highly open networks, a diverse set of individuals who don’t know one another, is often associated with faster promotions, higher bonuses, and strong performance reviews. Men are more likely to have these open, efficient networks and at least twice as likely as women to say that they look for relationships at work that can help them get on the right assignments and get ahead.
4. Leverage Relationships.
Upwardly Mobile and Pepperdine University found that “truly effective networking—networking in the manner of the high earning and high career‐level elite professionals represented within this study—requires more than ‘connections’ or ‘friends’; it requires cutting through clutter and focusing on what matters—real, mutually beneficial partnerships.”
Identifying the right people, those people who have power and influence and who are willing to recommend you, is the first step. Building and nurturing relationships of trust is next. The third important step is to leverage the relationships by paying it forward, being willing to help others and asking for assistance when you need it.
Women are less likely to build their favor bank and call in their “chips” and from their network. Their hesitancy to ask puts them at a distinct disadvantage to men who use their relationships to gain visibility and advance their careers.
5. Dedicate Time
One of the major push backs I hear from women is they don’t have time to network. They scramble to get their job done during the day and at night they often have family responsibilities that prevent them from networking activities.
If you don’t schedule time each week, your default behavior will be to stay in your office and tackle your to do list. Schedule at least one networking meeting per week. Make it your intention to have lunch or coffee with colleagues and key stakeholders. Put it on your calendar or it won’t happen!
Your time is valuable so be strategic about your networking activity outside of work. It’s wise to identify a couple of organizations that will provide valuable resources for your professional development. Before you join, go to a couple of meetings. Find those organizations that align with your values and offer you the best opportunities to build powerful relationships.
6. Keep In Touch
While it’s important to build a network of contacts to support your career goal, it’s equally important to nurture the relationships you have. Former colleagues, bosses, alums already know the value you offer and can recommend you for new opportunities. It pays to stay in touch. I know from my own experience how important these relationships are.
7. Focus Your Efforts
One would think that because we are constantly connected online, that networking in this manner is easy. After all, we have the potential for tremendous exposure to a vast network of people. However, online professional networking is not without challenges.
It is difficult to cut through all the noise. The number of people who connect with us is daunting and as a result, it’s easy to lose our strategic focus. Someone approaches us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or any other social network and asks to connect and our first response is to say ok. We end up with a huge network of people we don’t know and who offer us no value. It’s wiser to look carefully at their profiles to determine if you want that person in your network. If you determine there is some commonality, then reply and set up some time to talk and initiate a relationship. The point is that the number of contacts in your online network is not nearly as important as the quality.
In summary, we are frequently told about the importance of networking. Yet we are not necessarily taught how to network in a strategic manner to support our career aspirations. The best way to move your career ahead is to build and nurture mutually beneficial relationships with people who can speak for you and create the visibility you need to succeed.