It’s not enough to just understand networking is important for career success these days. That knowledge is well established and part of our everyday public domain. What most professionals still don’t have is a firm grasp on how to make the right moves with your network and what type of connections you should leverage. And, just as everything in this world, your networking strategy, tactics, and targets should not remain static but instead evolve as your career does.
Below is a breakdown of networking for the four stages of the typical career path.
Entry-level professionals have less than two years of experience. At this stage, it is not reasonable to expect to have a Rolodex chock-full of people who are in positions to hire you. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t have a useful network. Alumni groups, fraternity and sorority connections, colleagues from internships and family contacts are the key members of your network to target. While these “first-degree” connections may not have an opportunity for you directly, they will all have a network of their own that holds endless potential.
Once you have two years of professional work experience under your belt, it’s time to reconsider who in your network is most useful to your continued career progression. The best way to move up is by making sure the right people – your colleagues and more importantly those above you in your current and former organizations – know who you are. A former boss with which you had a good working relationship is a particularly advantageous connection.
At this point, it’s also time to add recruiters to your mix of connections. Recruiters will begin to take interest in you at this point as you gain experience that differentiates you from others through industry and functional expertise. Begin reaching out to recruiters long before you are in need of a quick job change. Develop a relationship over time in order to gain access to the opportunities that are attractive to you and fit in line with your career goals.
By the time you have reached your first management level role, your network of connections should have grown dramatically both in numbers and diversity. Leverage industry connections you may have made through vendor relationships and industry associations and events as well as colleagues that have moved onto other organizations.
One of the best ways to move up from a mid-level management role is to join a colleague or supervisor who has just taken a new opportunity and is building a team. This career move can also be less risky as you understand the personality and work styles of the team of people with which you will work.
Senior level professionals absolutely must have a large network who can attest to your abilities and leadership skills. However, the quantity of your network is not the key component. You must have respected and well-known connections. One of the best ways to gain quality connections is by joining a community, industry or nonprofit board of directors or committee. The people you will be rubbing elbows with in these environments are going to be people who can get your name directly in front of c-level executives. Most executives are placed by word of mouth, referrals or recruiters. So networking at this stage should be a part of your day to day life.
Regardless of your career level, the most important aspect of networking and building relationships that will propel your career forward is to follow up and stay in touch. After all, the idea is to keep you top of mind by those in your network who can help you advance. Reasonably frequent but brief correspondence and communications are ideal.