Most people look at their network only when they’re job-hunting. This is short-sighted, as the best relationships are built over time, with mutual engagement, not just you asking for something. When you do have a request, it’s an easy way to see if your network is strong – do you get what you want? Short of manufacturing a request to test your connections, you’ll know that your network is robust if is has these 5 characteristics.
A Big Network Is a Healthy Network Size does matter. Yes, you want deep, genuine relationships but the value of your network isn’t just who you know but whom the people you know are connected to, whom those connections know, and so on. The fewer people you know, the shorter your extended reach. A network with quantity also ensures you don’t have to rely on the same people over and over when you need something. If you can only think of a few people you regularly connect with, make a specific effort to expand the numbers in your network.
Diversity Counts Too A strong network has variety. If you only know similar types of people or people in the same industry or role, you will have limited perspective and limited access to breaking trends. Focus on meeting different people by making one date a week with someone outside your department, outside your company or outside your industry.
Keeping Current Is Critical A strong network is up-to-date on who you are right now. As a seasoned professional, you probably have met a lot of people through your professional, academic and life experience. But you also have probably changed a lot, perhaps working in a completely different field than when you started or based on what you studied. Do the people in your network know what you are up to? If you have made major changes and haven’t updated your network, budget time to reconnect with several people a week. You’ll have fun hearing what they are doing too.
Your Network Should Be Invested in You When news about you comes up – say, you posted an update on your social profile – do people comment? If you mention to colleagues over lunch that you’re working on a certain project, do they follow up? When you reconnect with someone, does he or she ask about something you said in a previous conversation? The strongest networks are invested in the well-being of members. If people aren’t engaging with you unprompted or remembering what you’re up to, you need to deepen your relationships. Yes, you want a big, diverse and updated network, but you also want to form genuine relationships.
It Should Be Proactive Too If someone in your network were to hear about an opportunity for you – it doesn’t have to be a job, it could be something fun like a big sale at your favorite store – would he or she tell you? This type of contact by your connections suggests that you are front of mind. If you hear after-the-fact about an opportunity for which you wish a connection had suggested you, it’s time to work on your existing relationships, checking that they know what opportunities are of interest to you. Perhaps the relationship is strong but not current.
To improve your professional network, focus on these characteristics. Expand your network if it’s small. Mix it up if it’s insular. Update people if it’s been a while, especially if you’ve moved into new areas. Invest in your existing relationships to ensure they are invested in you. Pay it forward and be proactive about helping your network – it’s the best way to stay connected.
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