Work Your Network. I’m talking work it, like it’s your second job. Work it with specific goals to reach out, meet up, exchange wisdom, add value, give freely, and share stories. I’m talking networking with every sort of co-worker in other departments, former colleagues, friends from every phase of life, extended family, across genders, generations, and the corporate hierarchy.
A woman actually did give me this advice many years ago. She was a peer of mine, and encouraged me to keep up contacts. Actually, she chided me a little because she couldn’t believe how little networking I actually did. So, I got the advice but didn’t follow it, and now it’s one of my biggest regrets. Girlfriend, was she ever right!
Maybe you’re like me – I feel like networking is challenging, time consuming, sometimes awkward, and a lot of work. I’m an introvert and it doesn’t come naturally. Maybe like you, I too devote an enormous amount of energy just keeping up with the day job, and them come home to care for family. Really, when do I have time during the week to network especially if I don’t have an immediate need?
Those were all really good excuses and rationalizations and they worked. When I left my corporate position and started to plan for career next steps, my network was barren. I have this mental image of my network – it looked like a scorched desert with burnt tumbleweeds and skeletal animal carcasses lying still in the dead heat of summer. You know, like when you see the steamy heat rise off hot pavement on the horizon? Don’t let your network dry up like that!
If you don’t have a nurtured network and all of a sudden you need one, that’s when it is truly awkward. I’ve been there! It’s painful because the intention of the interaction has shifted; the awkwardness comes when you attempt to tap into a dried-out network at a time when you need it to be fruitful.
In contrast, if you establish and proactively maintain your network when you don’t need it, you are in a much better position to offer value to the other person. Value in this context could be creative ideas for their business, mentoring, coaching, or connections to the people you know. It is this exchange that keeps the relationship alive and flowing, like a spring garden. Alive. Fruitful. Abundant.
I’m not alone when it comes to (not) working my network. Almost every woman I interviewed talked about wishing they would have kept up their connections. Even younger women know they need to network but many aren’t sure what steps to take. Networking is the most-identified area of career advice and coaching that women of all ages wish they’d paid attention to the most!
The good news for all of us is that it’s never too late to develop and nurture your network. Even barren gardens can come back to life with some TLC. For some, it’s really hard to make that first call, or maybe you don’t even know who to call. I see that a lot in my coaching practice. It’s ok to start with friends you haven’t seen in a while to get some confidence and practice in reaching out, asking for some time, making the connection, having a free flowing conversation, offering something of value, and agreeing to stay in touch. It’s really that easy, and it can be fun if you shift your intention.
Here’s what I wish a woman would have told me: your network and the quality relationships you build along the way are the only things that matter. You find out about career and life opportunities from the people you know and who know you. You have an inside track to the next best job because of the people you know. You have the recommendation and referrals because of the people you know. Your reputation and personal brand precede you because of your network. And, you will always be in a position to harvest the fruits of the relationships you build and maintain by nurturing your network.
In fact, now that I’m on the back-half of my working years, I would say that my network is more important to me than any performance review I’ve ever had. My network is more valuable than any paycheck I received. My network is more meaningful than any material thing I purchased along the way. Now, that’s what I wish I knew earlier.
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