One of the most powerful things you can do for your career – and life – is to grow, maintain, and utilize your network.
Undoubtedly you’ve heard this phrase before:
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know“
While this obviously isn’t always the case, I’m sure all of us can name a time in our own lives, or in someone else’s you know in which it was who they knew that helped them in a given situation.
Whether that situation was getting a job, getting out of trouble, getting a good deal on something, etc – it can be extremely useful and beneficial to have a network.
Building a network can be extremely powerful and when utilized properly, can ultimately help you to reach your goals and get to where you want to be in life.
So just how powerful can a network be?
The Power Of A Network
Let me share an example of how having a network has helped me out in my life, and how the lack of network has also impacted me.
Remember that job I had in the cardboard factory? That job came about precisely because of my lack of a network. Let me explain:
I worked that job during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. Given my career choice in Finance, the smart thing to do (and what many of my friends did) was to get an internship.
Internships are a huge difference maker for that all important and extremely competitive first job out of college, and the more you have, the better your resume looked.
The problem is… there aren’t too many paid internships out there for students prior to their junior year. All I could find were unpaid internships.
Some of my friends had taken the steps to expand their network while at school (or had a built in network through family members) and were able to land a coveted paid internship through that way.
I, on the other hand, did not take the necessary steps to build a network, and did not have family connections to fall back on.
Thus, I faced a choice: take an unpaid internship, or find a job that will make me money so I could fulfill my obligation of paying off a portion of my tuition (and thus take a smaller loan to cover the difference).
I chose the latter, and that’s how I ended up at the cardboard box factory, ruing my choices that led me to this.
This was a lesson I did not forget, and one I was quick to learn from. While the summer was already decided, I knew I would be home for a month over the winter between junior year semesters, typically a period where I would not work due to the shortness.
After working my butt off all summer and showing my supervisor I was a hard worker, I took a shot and asked if their Finance department would allow me to work for them unpaid over the winter to get some resume building experience.
As I was a reliable worker who never missed a day, picked up extra shifts, etc. my supervisor was willing to help me out. Though they could not make something work out at the company I had worked for, my supervisor called up a contact of his at a different packaging firm in the area.
Turns out they needed some help over in their Finance and Accounting department during that winter period. It wasn’t an advertised position, just a time where they could use a little extra help. Did I mention they ended up paying me for that month too? Resume experience AND summer money achieved – win win!
That’s the first network I had ever built for myself, and it landed me the coveted internship I needed while sticking true to my original tuition payment goals.
This is just one small example of how having a network can help you out. So how do you go about getting that network?
Grow Your Network
Networks can come in all shapes and sizes, but the most important thing is that you have one.
Life is tough enough as it is, but if you do not open up and surround yourself with other successful people who are willing to help you out (and you to help them out) it can be even tougher.
In order to grow your network, you need to put yourself out there and make genuine connections with people. The thing I’ve found to be most helpful while building my network is to first show someone how you can help them out.
Like in my example, I proved I was a reliable worker who showed up everyday (a rarity in the position). Or in my current job, I always ask my boss if I can take things off her plate to make things easier on her.
Once you demonstrate you are capable of helping someone, they more than likely will try to reciprocate at some point by helping you out. This is network building, and it is absolutely essential in your career!
Where you work is not the only place to look when trying to build and grow your network. Making new friends in your social life has the potential to lead to unexpected opportunities down the road.
Perhaps you are looking to change careers or start a new hobby but don’t know where to begin.
Reaching out to those who are experts in the field and others for advice is a great way to try and expand your network and help you with your goals.
As I’m looking into getting into real estate, I’ve been in uncharted waters where my current network does not reach. Thus, this summer I reached out to several property managers in my target market, and was able to meet with one of them for an hour long meeting. Network expanded!
Now, how to tactfully handle these exchanges and truly add these people into your network could be an entire post on it’s own. Just know that reaching out is always worth it, the worst case scenario is that they say no, they can’t help or don’t respond. In that case move onto the next one!
Growing your network can be challenging, though for some it’s easier than others.
Maintain Your Network
Once you have grown your network, now you have the challenge of maintaining it.
Let me be clear: you do not have to keep up with everyone in your network every single day.
This would just be too exhausting, and especially with a bigger network, it would just be downright impossible.
Instead, figure out how often you want or need to stay in touch with people in order for it to work out. This can be a different amount of time depending on the person.
For instance, I keep up with family and friends on a daily to weekly basis. Coworkers and managers are pretty much the same during work days.
However, for past managers and former co-workers who have left the company, I’ll try to keep in touch with them at least every couple months, just to see how things are going. People you’ve worked for or with in the past can be a great resource (since they know your work ethic) and you definitely don’t want them to forget about you!
Others are on an as needed basis. With the property manager I’ve recently met, I’ll still sometimes converse with him about questions I have on potential neighborhoods, or recent offers I’ve seen on the market.
The point is, don’t feel like you have to keep up with everyone every single day. Find a system and schedule that works for you and your acquaintances so that everyone is happy.
Utilize Your Network
Lastly, and possibly most importantly, don’t forget to utilize your network.
This seems pretty self explanatory, but it’s something that so many people forget.
If you ever have a question on anything, or were interested in a new hobby/career/job/investment/whatever, where should you first go to?
This is the exact purpose of your network. You help them out when they need it, and they help you out when you need it.
If I were to look for a new job, I would let pretty much everyone in my network know that I was looking for one (aside from, you know, my current boss and coworkers).
All of a sudden, when you do that, not only are you actively looking for a new job, but you’ve got your whole network out there keeping their eyes out for a good job for you as well. Do you see the exponential potential in that?
This is what the power of a good network can do.
Many times, you can also find that your network does this work for you without you even asking.
Examples of this could be friends saying their company is hiring, former coworkers saying they have a job that could be a good fit, current coworkers mentioning a new class or hobby they’ve gotten into – the possibilities are endless.
Remember to utilize your network when you have a goal instead of trying to do everything on your own.
I hope this has shown just how building a strong network can be beneficial towards your career and life.
Creating this network is all about relationship building. Relationships require time, energy and mutual participation and satisfaction from both parties. This is crucial, as if you do not provide anything in return to those in your network – you’ll find it may be smaller and less helpful than you’d like.
Sometimes you do lose touch with people – it happens. But before you write off ever contacting that person again – try giving it a shot if it’s something you really want and they could possibly help you with. You never know what could happen.
For instance – remember that cardboard box supervisor that helped me out in the first story?
Well, I inevitably lost touch with him after that winter internship program. But a year and a half later after I had graduated, I found myself back at home for a month and a half with nothing to do prior to starting my full time job.
Guess who was the first person I called?
Even though we hadn’t talked in over a year – he was more than happy to have me back working in the factory for that month and a half.
Did I mention he gave me a pay raise without me even asking? 🙂
Do you think Networks are important to have in your life? When has there been a time when it’s worked in your favor?Do you turn to your network on a regular basis?