The benefits of taking a more structured approach to networking
If you were asked about your network, would you be able to describe it? Could you define the role each person in your network plays?
For most of us, these are difficult questions because we haven’t analyzed our networks closely. While it’s easy to look at our LinkedIn profiles and say, “I’ve got more than 500 connections, so I’ve got a large network,” it’s difficult to assess the roles those connections play, and how those people fit into your personal and professional life.
When I was at the CIA, I was an instructor of a leadership course called Building Partnership Networks, which taught participants how to assess their networks and develop new contacts in a deliberate way. This approach, we suggested, leads to more meaningful and powerful connections and, in turn, a more successful career.
Here are some of the general principles we discussed in the course:
First, assess your relationship with each person in your network.
- How well does this person know you?
- How much does this person support you?
- Would this person be willing to put you forward for a new job or a critical opportunity?
How you answer these questions will help you determine whether that contact is really in your corner, if the contact is a surface-level associate or if the contact is someone you probably won’t meet again. Spend more time curating relationships with the people who will support you rather than ones who will not.
Second, look at the role your network contact plays in your life.
- Is this person a professional or personal contact?
- Is this person in your professional area or a member of your team with a different specialty?
- Is this person in your organization or at another agency?
This information will help you understand the roles network connections can play in your professional life and illustrate the different types of support they can provide.
Third, think about the give-and-take relationship you have with your connections.
- What can your connections provide that you can’t get on your own?
- What can you provide others that will help them grow, learn and make their own connections?
The old adage “the more you give, the more you get” applies to building strong networks. The more you help others, the more others are likely to help you.
Strong connections can deeply impact your life, leading to new careers, new job locations, new areas of expertise, new mentors and so on. Taking a structured approach to your network connections and analyzing how they impact your life can provide significant benefits for your personal and professional growth.