It was always shared with me, especially during undergrad, that networking was crucially important. At the time I had no idea what networking really meant, nor did I know how to do it, but I knew it was important. As it turns out, networking is just a fancy word for making connections with people. From my standpoint, in order for someone to be “in your network” they must be willing to do something to assist you and you must be willing do something to assist them.
Over the course of the past four years at my company, I have built a strong internal network of people I can count on. If I need advice on a certain project, I have someone I can go to. If I need to talk through a career challenge, I know who the best person is to talk with. Conversely, if someone from my network comes to me with a question on how I handled a situation, I’ll share my experiences with them to help them out. Without a strong network I would not be in the position I am in today with the company. My network has allowed me to advance my career quickly, try different opportunities, and be introduced to unique experiences. Here’s how I built a strong, valuable network:
- Start on day one with the people from your hiring class. I was fortunate to have a group of around 30 people in my hiring class, the majority of which were the same age as me. This made it easier to meet people. Simply striking up a conversation with these people about their background has allowed me to feel more comfortable at the company. I see these people often in the office, and know I can count on them for assistance if they need me and vice versa
- Be great at your job. Performance was (and still is) everything for me. By doing a great job, especially in my first role, I set myself up well for the future. My manager, her manager, and another team member appreciated having me on the team and saw the value I provided. This created a stronger connection between me and them. In turn, these people became valuable assets to my network. Plus, doing a great job and having these people vouch for me led me to additional opportunities that I wanted to pursue
- Follow up. A network is only that if it is nurtured. What this meant for me is setting monthly or quarterly coffee meetings or lunches with the people from my network. This did two things: 1. It gave us the opportunity to get to know one another at a personal level. 2. It gave us the chance to learn what the other person was working on. These follow up meetings created a deeper connection for the both of us, furthering the value of the network
- Take all opportunities for mentorship. I was asked if I wanted to be assigned a mentor partway through my first year at the company. I jumped at the chance. The person assigned to me had been at the company for 20 years and was a director-level (seven levels above me, at the time). This gave me a great chance to meet someone who knew, almost, everything about the company and had a vast network. His network now became my network. I still meet with him on a monthly basis almost three years later and am very appreciative of his assistance
- Share what you’re working on with others. When I bump into people in the hallway, I ask them what they are working on. This gives them a chance to talk about their projects (which people love to do) and it gives me a chance to learn more about it. I can then help this person and make an introduction if they need it
- Avoid surrounding yourself with people that drag you down. They say you are a reflection of the three people you spend the most time with, and this is true, especially for how others perceive you. I chose to surround myself with people that were (and still are) strong performers that are highly regarded throughout the company. This has improved my brand at the company as I am now associated with these people. By staying away from low performers and people that drag me down I am able to be more of a contributing factor at the company. How do you identify someone that might drag you down? Ask yourself: are they well regarded throughout the company? And, do they do great work? If the answer to these questions is “no,” steer clear of these people
The best example of my network working on my behalf is from the fall of 2015. I was starting to look for a new role internally and shared this with my current manager. She had suggested a few open roles to me, one of which the hiring manager was someone who I had worked with previously. I met with the hiring manager and two weeks later was hired into that role. I am confident if I had not done a great job in the work I had done with her previously, she would have dismissed me. Plus, I am certain she contacted some of my former managers to get additional background on me as an employee, and they vouched for me. Without a strong, valuable network, I would not have been able to get this opportunity.
When I was a freshman in college I had no idea what a network even was. With a few years of experience “networking” in a professional environment, I’ve realized it is not as complicated as I initially thought it to be. Following these guidelines has created a valuable internal network for me. As a result, door has been opened for new, exciting opportunities. I challenge you to think about these steps as you seek to build your own valuable network.
- What can you do today to start building or enhancing your network?
- Who is someone in your network today that should be removed?