Your Network. The Biggest Career Mistake No One Talks About

Network Image. Picture of finger touching a digital image of a person and that image connecting with other people images
Newly Graduated, and Without A Clue

I’m not too proud to admit that I have been wrong about a lot of things in life, especially when it comes to my career.

I remember when I was right out of college in my early 20s.  Now, I’ll be the first one to fess up that I was not the best student.  In fact, I viewed classes as a way to pass the time between football practice, fraternity parties and Thursday night dollar drinks.

In fact, on graduation day, like most people I cried; however, unlike my counterparts who were shedding tears of joy at the start of new life, I was crying because the greatest 4 year, parent funded, party had just come to an end.

Needless to say,  I was less prepared for the professional world than many of my counterparts.  However, to overcome this I had an interesting point of view on the matter: I didn’t need to have a broad base of knowledge.  In fact, I just needed to do one thing better than all of my counterparts: Work harder and longer.  My thought was that if I did this, I would get notice, and subsequently, promoted.

This philosophy worked well – up to a point.  And then I got to a level in which I stopped progressing.  Through most of my 30s, I floundered in middle management, while others, who were working far less hours, rocketed past me.

Hard Work Will Only Get You So Far

It wasn’t until a trusted manager confided in me one day that although I could work harder, longer and produce more results than my counterparts, I was failing in the most important area related to career advancement – I didn’t have a network.

If I could get in a time machine, go back to when I was in my 20s and provide some advice it will be this: Forget everything else and focus on building a strong network.

Networks Are Critical, But Building One Doesn’t Have To Be Miserable

So, I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know; however, does the thought of networking stress you out?  Are you absolutely horrified at the thought of going to some after work event, drinking bad wine, talking to people you would never think of socializing with in your personal life, only to hand out a business card that you know is going to get thrown in the trash the minute that person leaves the building?

If so, I have good news: building an effective network does not involve one after work event.  In fact, it should be avoided at all costs because it is complete waste of time.

Instead, follow the steps below and in a few years you’ll have a network that will allow you to be in total control of your career, offering literally unlimited opportunity and earnings.

a. Connect the dots

Be strategic in your networking.  List the companies or industries you want to be a part of and list all the people who are somehow connected with the organizations you want to be a part of.  Don’t know anyone, then connect with the people who can connect you.

I suggest putting your target businesses and industries on a spreadsheet and then build out each row with the people who can “wire” you in.  Starting with people you know right now.  For example, if you want to work in the coffee industry (I love coffee), you might have a coworker who belongs to a trade group that people in the coffee industry belong to.  Start with your associate and ask who they know, and then add that name.  Next, ask if they can introduce you – connecting the dots.

Here is an even easier technique: Say you want to work in particular department at your existing company – simply call the department manager and ask for 30 minutes on their calendar to find out more about their group.  Don’t think it will work – try it and you’ll be amazed how many appointments you get.  You’re now a known entity to that manager.  When a role comes up, drop them a note and say you’d like to interview and what advice they can give you.  9 times out of 10, you’ll be one of the people selected for the interviews.

b. Be a connector

Here’s a secret: adding value to others is the ABSOLUTE BEST way to build a network.    

If you become good at connecting people that need help or are looking to meet someone in your network, you become the “go to” person for people needing help.  Your network grows, BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL COME TO YOU.    

For example, say someone in your organization is working on a project and they need to tap into someone with six sigma expertise.  If you can put them in touch with someone that can help them, “Booya!” who do think they are going to stay connected with?

c. Focus on giving

Here’s where most people make a big mistake in their networking efforts (and the big reason those after work events are worthless)… people are just focused on what they can get. 

If you want to be an effective networker, completely disregard what you can get and focus on helping.  This may seem counter intuitive but when you dig into it, it makes total sense.  One reason is the law of reciprocity– People feel obligated to help those that have helped them.  Ever wonder why you get a flower or flag at an airport before someone asks for a donation?  Reciprocity.

Ok, sounds good, so what is the best way to help?  That’s easy – become a “joiner”.  Join Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, industry association, trade groups, etc.  These organizations are always looking for members and volunteers and the connections you make will be like gold.  Plus, you’ll have the benefit of connecting with some genuinely great people.

d. Stay connected

Remember that friend or associate you had that moved to a different company or department?  Don’t under any condition let that relationship go.  Stay connected.  How?  Be thoughtful.  Put a recurring task on your “to do” list to reach out to one person every other day.  It’s as simple as sending a note through LinkedIn asking how they and their family are doing or if there is anything you can do to help them.  Here’s another technique: share articles and information you find on the internet.  It’s as easy as hitting “share” with a note that says: “Saw this and thought of your new role.  Hope you enjoy the article”.  That’s it, then when its time to move on or if you want to join their company you can call them and ask for their advice – how about that?

A Strong Network Is Your Safety Net

About 10 years ago, I was fat dumb and happy when an announcement came that my job was being eliminated across the organization.  Just like that, 12 of us had 2 months to find a new role in the company or exit.  My friend in the office next to me panicked and took the first thing he could find which ended up being a role 2 levels below his current position.

I on the other hand spent a week making phone calls.  In less than 14 days, I had 3 interviews and secured a job that was BETTER than the one I had.

Your network will put you in total control of your career.  Now go out and build a strong one…

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I’ve spent my entire life in the Fortune 500, and I want to share everything I wish I knew when I was younger in the hopes that you can find success far faster than I did.

Who knows, it may take only one article of video to change your life.

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