I once told a recruiter I was a 'professional networker' to which their reply was 'what's a professional networker?' The short answer is it's someone who never learned to say 'No'. We put a significant amount of value in people and relationships. We are opportunists and connectors. We are a product of nature and nurture. For me it all started on moving day in November day in 2002.
Having lived in large markets most of my life, career opportunities were plentiful if you are early to mid career and ambitious. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, all were places my family had thrived. In November 2002 I took a job in a terrific family-owned business in St Louis MO metro area. Looking back, it was one of my favorite roles in a 30 year career.
I'm a guy who's eyes are always open and have become very intuitive so pretty quickly I could tell that living in market 20 or lower meant you better be well connected in these smaller (and tight knit) business communities. Should there be an unforeseen event, replacing your position could be very difficult. I immediate joined the American Marketing Association chapter there, ultimately becoming President, and the rest is history. A terrific 15 year run in that market.
So, here's my take on not only the importance of being personally and professionally networked but some of the misconceptions and rules associated with networking as a practice. I also spend a significant amount of time focused on social media as the most important tool in your networking toolbox ……
Data tells us that your next role is 98% likely to come as a result of a connection in your current network. Therefore it makes complete sense to be focused on two critical networking practices that will contribute to landing your next role and the future ongoing success of your career.
The size and the quality of your personal and professional networks will have a significant bearing on your reach both horizontally and vertically. The following article walks through:
Benefits and 'The Why?'
Misconceptions and the need to change our thinking.
Rules and best practices.
1. Benefits: The Why
Have you experienced the digital disaster that is the "Apply Online" option that accompanies the online job boards? These are behind the curtain software packages from companies called Taleo, Workday, iCIMS, and then there are the proprietary products from Indeed and LinkedIn. By leveraging your network, you can bypass that frustrating process on the front end and get a much richer introduction to the company or hiring manager.
The 'Network Effect' is when the compounding of numbers delivers more value that just the straight math equation, ie. where 2 + 2 = 7. Think phone company, credit bureau's, Facebook and other social media outlets. Your network works the same way. The process is viral. You aren't connecting with one person, you are connecting to everyone in their network.
In a digital age and virtual networks, we aren't bound by geography or industry and have easy access to new markets and industries. There are opportunities to reposition yourself via your social media platforms and the original content you produce. When you think about your digital footprint in terms of where you're headed and not a regurgitation of your past, a whole new network will open up to you.
Your network will be a great source of knowledge based learning opportunities, exposing you to new ideas, concepts and practices with every new click. You'll learn new ways to accomplish what matters in your current role and beyond. Watching someone's camera angles, presentation techniques, or even just their resume or reel can be the inspiration to spark change. Following SME's (subject matter experts) can help with your interviewing or negotiation techniques for example as you look to move up.
It's also a terrific source of news, current events and trends. I marvel at the multimedia pro that posts breaking news content that is already 3-4 hours old without adding further insight or original content. It really tells me that their network is stale and they haven't put in the effort to make sure their feeds are relevant AND topical. Using your network as a guide, you'll have a solid grasp on the current news cycle.
2. Misconceptions: Need to Change
Many think they have nothing to offer in a network relationship because they are too young and inexperienced or they less education or are social-economically challenged. You are never too young or undeserving to connect. If you are consciously expanding your network both horizontally and vertically, there are a number of people in your network I'd love to meet today! Ask all the young professionals in my network what I tell them when they say they have nothing to offer. My response is predictably "Someday you can pay me back by hiring me, I'm grooming you to be my future boss!" Not all rewards are going to be immediate.
I frequently encounter people that believe they have what they need to be successful, they don't need to expand or invest in a network right now. They simply don't have the time. Here's what I'll tell you about my personal and professional experiences. First, you'll time out in the role much much sooner than you think you will. Tenure in the workforce today is less than 4 years in position. Also, many industry contracts are 2 or 3 years in length. There is planned attrition in your role the first day you're there!
Next, there are circumstances which you can't control. Listen, sometimes change comes like a thief in the night. Companies are sold, people are traded, industries and organization are dissolved through bankruptcies, estate transition, and just plain bad management. You need to be prepared to lean on your network when everything unexpectedly crashes down around you.
You are hesitant to proactively network with those you don't know because it's unsafe and outside my comfort zone. Yes, unfortunately there are many internet trolls out and about and prey on high profile people, especially women. I think the best course of action is to make your social media profiles and content private but be open to accepting invites and connections. Do 3 minutes of due diligence before extending and accepting invites.
3. Rules: The Best Practices
It's all about Reciprocity. Crazy as it may seem, the worst at creating two-way networks are millennials. I believe it stems from a couple things. First, and most aggravating is that first taste of demand and the recognition that comes with it. Ego's are super inflated with a bit of success and instead of riding the wave, many push a one-way stream of content as their followers increase. They lose track of the fact that THEY need to be connected and following others as well to live outside their own bubble.
Next, they are crazy suspicious about other's motives for networking. My reach outs are "I'm always watching up and coming talented professionals and I'd be honored to have you as part of my network". Last week I got a quick response from a millennial reporter in Milwaukee "I already have representation" and they quickly unfriend me. Listen, I can't take on representation through a social media friend request anyway, it requires interviews and the right fit. BUT, wouldn't it be cool a couple years from now we were in each other's network to bounce ideas, questions, and opportunities off of? Listen, you don't look better in the light of that burning bridge you left behind.
You need to be socially responsible and accountable at all times. I've worked with at least a half dozen media talents which have had some significant dust up on social media that significantly impacted the size and quality of their personal networks. Words hurt. We need to be very measured with what we publish. This isn't news to you, it's an important reminder.
When we make a connection and add someone to our network we need to think about it as a two-way superhighway and create an informal contract with each other. This new relationship is mutually beneficial. Being mutual by definition means 'both of us' and not a one-way firehose of bikini and drinking photos on Insta. It's ok to post that content but just be cognizant that you'll be attracting like minded people (horizontal growth) but not other influencers outside that sphere (vertical growth).
I'm going to create content and information that is valuable to our relationship, we can both benefit from it and I have the same expectation of you. We need to serve our network, feeding others with content and information that is going to be valuable to them as they grow personally and professionally. The strongest networks are ones that are cherished and nurtured. You are literally seeding, watering, and growing a living breathing entity.
Networking is work, it requires effort because networks need to be managed. Today there are caps on the number of LinkedIn connections and Facebook friends means you need to be diligent and constantly tweak. It's time consuming but critical. You'll be amazed how many of your Facebook friends deactivate their accounts for example. Free that space up at least once a month. We need to be attentive.
Networks need to be intentional and have their borders expanded. When you are 27 years old, few have the fear of 'timing out' in an industry with a short shelf life like entertainment and media, sports, or music for example. We need to expand our networks into areas that might be important in our next chapters. That needs to be started NOW regardless of your age.
As a rule, we always should bring value to a relationship. Never connect with another professional solely because they can help you. We accept and then we gift. Maybe you suggest that you'll work 5-6 hours pro bono on a project or you'll write a letter of recommendation. These are things that even the most junior of associates can contribute. Remember that a network is an investment and some investments generate returns in the near term, some take decades. Also, because it's an investment, you must make regular contributions.
Networks are living and breathing entities. There are meant to be fed and nurtured. What you get from your network is proportional to what you give. They aren't bubbles, they are open and inviting. When well development and properly managed, your network can become the biggest emotional and economic safety net in your career.
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