With an increasing number of digital tools meant to create ‘connections’ at our fingertips today, it is becoming more confusing to navigate the idea of building a professional network.
Is your network…the number of connections you have on LinkedIn?
The number of professional mentorship groups you belong to?
Or is it, simply, the people you have worked with in your current and past jobs?
Consider Dunbar’s number, which states that the average human being can comfortably maintain stable relationships with 150 people, compared to the average number of LinkedIn connections a person has: 930! As the term ‘network’ gets muddled in the digital realm, I’ve found that focusing on a few key tactics will help you to build a fruitful, established, professional network IRL.
Set your intention
No, I don’t mean in your yoga class.
Before beginning to think about how to grow your professional network, think about what you want your professional network to be for you. Do you want to learn more about an industry you’re not currently involved in? Learn how to advance your career in your current role? Are you looking to learn how to balance work and life? Answering these questions will help you determine what type of people you need more of in your professional life.
Set up a coffee with the future you
It’s easy to believe that the more meetings you have, the more productive you’re being. I’ve found that a more focused approach to building a professional network is far more effective than casting a wide net.
When you’re trying to grow your network, build a list of titles you think align with your career growth path. Then, reach out to those around you who have those titles, set up a coffee, and start learn what they do, and how they got to where they are today.
Focus on quality, not quantity
There is definitely such a thing as having too many professional connections.
Your ability to dedicate energy and focus to your relationships decreases with the volume of people you’re trying to connect with. Instead of reaching out to every person in a senior leadership role at your company, focus on building deeper relationships with one or two people you naturally connect with, and whose role you admire. Try to have 10 coffees with 2 people, instead of 2 coffees with 10 people. And don’t force a relationship with someone you don’t naturally connect with, no matter what their title is.
Make it a two-way street
Building your network isn’t just about getting advice and support – it’s also about giving those things. Often times, when we connect with someone we admire, we forget that the other person wants to be fulfilled by the relationship as well.
I have a ‘friend-tor’ whose career I admire greatly, and who gives me tons of advice. In return, I offer him a fresh perspective on his position as a leader, and give him feedback that people he works with on a daily basis may not be giving him. As in any type of relationship, consider what you’re bringing to the table.
Your network is a living breathing thing
Keep in mind that your professional network may grow, shrink or change as you continue on your career path. Some connections you may form could turn into friendships, while others may become obsolete the further you move along in your path. Maintaining connections is important, but also remember that the purpose of a professional network is to help your career flourish – not to be the most popular young professional in your city.