- Having a strong network results in increased employment outcomes from more offers to greater satisfaction at work.
- While there are no standard rules for networking, it’s important to pay attention to what’s working, and why.
- To do the work of networking better, be intentional from the ask to the follow-up.
It is well-documented that job search and career development processes are almost wholly dependent upon effective relationships these days. In fact, a recent study found that those who used their networks to do the job search ended up with more offers, higher wages, and were likely to stay in that job for longer than those who did not. Experience matters. Having a great, polished resume is essential. But it’s the people who will get you in the door, promote you for opportunities, and encourage and challenge you to grow. No one can be successful in a vacuum, no matter how much you may identify as a solo practitioner. And if there was ever a time to go in deep on building relationships, 2023 is it. In this world of fully remote and hybrid work, knowing how to reach out and build relationships is more important than ever.
One of the challenges with network-building is that doing it effectively is subjective. While I will tell you that using the general LinkedIn connection message will result in an automatic decline of your request, someone else will tell you to go ahead and send it. How do you know what's the right way to build your network? Start by taking stock of what’s working and why. If you keep applying to jobs and not getting any requests to interview, then there is something wrong with your application materials. If you’re asking people to connect with you and keep getting turned down, then there is something wrong with the way that you are asking.
There may not be one standard way to do it, but here are some road-tested tips for getting to yes (and why you might keep hearing a no).
Five Tips for Better Network-Building
Get clear on why you’re making the ask. Everyone is busy these days, if not overworked to the point of burnout. Add in care-taking responsibilities, daily life activities, and taking care of their own personal and professional development, and there’s not a lot of time left over for other people. How do you get them to make time for you? Be specific on why you’re making the ask and what you're asking for. What is your goal or need? Why is it important to you? What gap are you trying to fill? Once you've answered those questions, then ask: Why should this other person help you fill that gap? Why are they the best person to help you? You need to be able to finish this statement: “I’m asking for some of your time because …" Otherwise, you are not ready to send the ask. Keep clarifying your ask until you are ready.
Be respectful of other people’s time. Remember, you’re asking for some of people’s most precious commodity: Their time. Just because you are available nights and weekends doesn’t mean they are. Just because you can meet tomorrow doesn’t mean they can. Just because this request is urgent and important to you doesn’t mean that it is or should be to them. Your job is to make yourself available on their calendar, not the other way around. I always frame my ask like this: “If you want to send me some days and times that you are available over the next few weeks, I’ll make my schedule work with yours. Or, if there is another way you would like for me to put time on your calendar, please let me know.” And then, once you have scheduled the meeting, keep to the time allotted. If it’s a 30-minute conversation, stick to it. Knowing how to respect and manage time is a key professional and relationship-building skill.
Always follow-up. It should go without saying that you should send a thank you when someone gives you anything, including their time. While a handwritten note is nice, an email thank you is perfectly fine. It doesn’t have to be long; just a short acknowledgment of their time, advice, feedback, or whatever else they may have provided will suffice. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask if you can reach out for another conversation down the road; that's how a conversation becomes a relationship. If they make an introduction for you to an additional contact, be sure to follow up to let them know that you followed through on that introduction. These small steps are great ways to maintain your network, deepen relationships, and demonstrate professionalism.
Be intentional about maintenance. When you think about maintaining your network, it can feel very transactional. But the reality is you do the work of maintaining your personal relationships all the time. Whenever you send a check-in message or ask someone to grab a drink or go for a walk to “catch up,” you are doing the work of maintaining that relationship. The same goes for professional relationships. This is not a one-and-done activity. You need to find ways to check in with people in your network, and not just when you need something. I am least inclined to be helpful to someone when the only time I hear from them is when they come asking for my help. But if they have periodically checked in, let me know how they are doing, and occasionally asked how I am doing, then I’m there for them, 100 percent. Relationship-building is a two-way street. You never know when you might need someone's help in the future, so put in the work now to make and maintain those relationships.
Lastly, be a connector. You don’t just need to maintain your network, you also need to look for opportunities to connect other people to each other, as well. This is a great way to give back to people and has the added benefit of growing your own network at the same time. As stated above, you don’t want to be the person who always takes from other people and expects others to show up for them while giving nothing back in return. The most successful people are those with strong, diverse networks, and who are master connectors. And the good news is, this is a skill you can practice and develop, starting today. Look for those opportunities to make introductions, recommend people as resources, and to support other people's growth. If you want to be successful in the future of work, be a people collector and a people connector. It is the most important work you will do.
Wolff H-G, Moser K. Effects of networking on career success: A longitudinal study. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2009;94(1):196-206. doi:10.1037/a0013350
Gibson, C., Hardy,Jay H., I.,II, & Buckley, M. R. (2014). Understanding the role of networking in organizations. Career Development International, 19(2), 146-161. https://doi.org/10.1108/CDI-09-2013-0111