It’s difficult to overstate the benefits of a strong personal network. For better or worse, professional advancement very often depends on what’s arguably the most reviled phrase in the business lexicon: “who you know.”
Successful professionals don’t leave their networking duties until the last minute. They’re constantly on the lookout for new connections, cognizant that the best opportunities tend to crop up when they’re least expected.
“You shouldn’t network because you’re desperate — you should network all the time,” business networking expert Larry James told Fox Business in a 2010 interview. “You should always be making contacts and have a Rolodex or computer program that lets you file these people away.”
If you’re not sure you’ve done enough to burnish your professional network in preparation for the next leg up in your career, it’s not too late to get started. Here’s what you can do right now to build a better personal network that actually works for you when you need it most.
- Don’t Wear Your Worries on Your Sleeve
Take James’s advice to heart. Those who network when they’re desperate — for a promotion, professional recognition, a new job, seed capital for their latest venture — usually stick out like sore thumbs. Prospective contacts can tell when you’re networking for transparently selfish reasons.
- Practice Humility
Take cues from those who’ve successfully dealt with sudden, unexpected fame. Almost without fail, folks who handle fame well practice humility well. They understand that they’re not the center of the universe, that their lives aren’t intrinsically more valuable than any others’, and they act accordingly.
You don’t have to be famous — or even particularly well known — to take this lesson to heart. You just have to realize that there’s little to be gained from talking out of turn or behaving like a big shot when you’re not in a position to back it up. The people upon whom you might one day rely for assistance will be far less inclined to go to the mat for you when if you’ve been unable or unwilling to show them that you’d do the same for them.
- Listen Twice As Much As You Speak
You’ve probably heard the old adage, “You have two ears and one mouth so that you can listen twice as much as you speak.”
Corny, sure, but no less true for it. Networking isn’t simply about telling prospective contacts what you need and how they can help you get it. It’s about relationships predicated on mutual trust and interest. For every favor or “solid” a member of your network does for you, you’ll need to do something comparable for them. You can’t know what it is they’ll need until you pipe down and listen to them explain it in their own words.
- Get a Reliable Mentor
Writing in Entrepreneur magazine, business expert Rajat Tandon says: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. The most accurate definition of a mentor actually embodies all these qualities.”
That’s great advice, save for one crucial omission: Good mentors know people — lots of them — positioned to help their mentees. Look for a reliable mentor with an extensive personal network in your professional specialty. They can open additional doors as needed.
- Make Friends With Your Peers
What can a peer do to advance your career? More than you think, actually. When you’re being considered for a promotion, peer recommendations can absolutely make the difference. Always be cultivating your laterals — and make sure you stay in their good graces. It’s never a bad time to trade favors.
- Cozy Up to Headhunters and Management Consultants
Even if you’re not quite at the point of needing their services, you’ll want to know your share of executive search specialists and management consultants when the time comes.
Remember, you don’t have to pay these people to benefit from their expertise — though you’ll surely need to pony up if you’re actually looking for a new job. Knowing an executive search specialist when you’re on the look for new opportunities is akin to knowing a real estate broker when you’re thinking about moving into a new place.