As we move through our careers, our network of contacts becomes larger as we meet more people in our different roles. While it’s great to have a large network, it gets more difficult to stay in touch with everyone. And whether you’re looking for a new position or not, keeping your network current is a trait strong executives continue to focus on. If this is an area you’d like to develop, here are four tips to strengthen your professional network.
Don’t Be Afraid
For the majority of us, networking is hard. We suddenly feel self conscious. We start judging ourselves in our heads and think everyone is doing the same. We would rather bury our heads in the sand than actively network. This is especially true if we only think about networking when we are looking for a new position. Too often we hear from people we haven’t heard from in years who want to “pick our brains” as they look for a new position.
If you make an effort to keep up with your network on a regular basis, the fear of reaching out diminishes each time to talk to someone. People are people and everyone enjoys hearing from contacts from time to time. For example, reach out to congratulate someone who’s been promoted, to share an article they might find of interest, to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. Social media has made this easier for us, but don’t just “like” something, add a note, public or private, that is personal.
Forget About Yourself
Once you get used to staying in touch, the next tip is to forget about yourself. Don’t reach out to ask for something, instead, think of how you can be of service to your network. This mindset removes the stigma of networking that we have in our heads. If someone reaches out to you, go out of your way to help. When you’re at an event, introduce a contact to a new person that could benefit from meeting them.
When you think of how you can help others, instead of how others can help you, your entire perspective changes. Now instead of dreading the idea of networking, it becomes an opportunity to help your friends and acquaintances. And we all know how good it feels to help others.
Once you forget about what’s in it for you, it’s easier to just be yourself. Helping others is not an excuse to rack up “you owe me one” favors. If that’s the goal you’ve set out to achieve, then you haven’t forgotten about yourself, you’re just disguising it. And that is one of the fastest ways to reduce your network and jeopardize your reputation.
By being yourself, you are being authentic. There is nothing more engaging to others than people who are genuinely looking out for them. Your network is more than just the people you know, it’s the people your network knows. For example, a CEO friend of someone in your network mentions they are looking for a new CFO. Your network connection realizes you’d be a great fit and recommends you to the CEO who reaches out to you about the position. Being your genuine self has far reaching effects that you won’t always see.
Consistency is the key to managing your growing network. No matter what kind of process you use for calendaring and events, make sure to include networking as part of your process. Keeping up with your network is a full time endeavor. One candidate we recently placed in a C level job blocks out 20 minutes every single day for networking, researching what contacts may be in the news, have special occasions coming up, or how industry news may affect someone. She’ll then send off a short note to see if she can help.
She told us it has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. She has built real relationships with people she never thought would remember her name, and she has used the guidance she’s received through the years as a form of mentoring, bouncing ideas around with different people.
Yes, strengthening your network can require some work on your part, but the rewards far outweigh the work. It may not be an everyday task for you, but if you want to be a successful executive, it should be part of your routine to keep current with your network.
If you’re an executive who would like to improve your networking skills, let us know. Our executive recruiters can provide you with best practices and resources to help you.