You’ve built a strong professional network: now what?
Creating a web of connections requires time, energy and commitment. But that’s only half the battle: maintaining your professional network is every bit as important as building it up.
Five women from around the world share how they’ve best leveraged their budding professional relationships.
1. It’s not all about quick wins: play the long game too
When New York attorney Liz Graham moved her life to Boston, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her career – get a strategy-based role at a city-centre organisation.
She attended official networking events, re-connected with former friends, colleagues and recruiters who’d turned up in the same city, and volunteered to speak about her areas of expertise on numerous panels.
But it was while she was practising her backhand on the tennis court that she made a connection that would prove the most valuable: “As it turned out, we were both in job-hunting mode — he had just left Zipcar — and so between sets, we talked about the kind of environment we wanted to be in, what we love doing, and what opportunities we were looking for,” she tells Harvard Business Review.
It’s a delicate balance [between conversation and self-promotion]… I tend to ask a lot of questions. I probe the other person. Naturally, they will ask me questions, and that’s when I talk about my story and experience.
They shared email addresses, got together for the occasional tennis match, swapped stories about the lives of their children, who happened to be at the same school and sent one another congratulations messages at pivotal career moments.
Years later, a role came up that Liz wanted and the hiring manager was someone her connection knew. Introductions were made and Graham is now VP of Sales and Service at the organisation she always had her eye on.
Liz’s story is a reminder that identifying valuable connections isn’t just about spotting favours in the offing – but that building meaningful relationships can lead to some of the most career-defining moments down the line.
2. Make mutual feedback and advice a mandatory part of your networking calendar
‘You can’t read the label from inside the jar,’ is a saying that resonates with Female Entrepreneur Association Founder, Carrie Green.
As a work-from-home entrepreneur, she admits she can sometimes be so ‘in it’ that she doesn’t realise the best solution to a problem is staring her right in the face – such as forgetting to put ‘buy it’ links on a new web page designed to attract new customer sign-ups.
In the video below she discusses how attending a seminar on creating ‘mastermind groups’ has awakened her to the importance of drawing on the expertise of her closest connections, and ensuring she’s giving just as much back.
She advocates setting up a group of between four and six Masterminds from your network, who can commit to weekly or monthly Skype chats, “and who want to give as much as they want to receive”.
“We don’t have to figure everything out by ourselves,” was Carrie’s key realisation, after a Mastermind session leads to an introduction to a literary agent she’d wanted to connect with. “We can find other people that can help us.
Being able to connect with people you admire [means] you grow your business faster than if you’re just sat there alone.”
3. Networking doesn’t just happen at industry events: look at your social circle too
Deutsche Bank India is one of the few banks in the country approaching gender balance in management (40% of leadership roles are held by women).
But Chief Operating Officer Sandhya Vasudevan says that women are still behind when it comes to building strong networks – and admits she’s sometimes failed to see relational opportunities when presented.
“I used to go for karate classes where I used to interact with a lady who was the mother of one of the students. One day I met her at a technology forum, and until then, I did not realise that she was a senior global technology professional. At that time, I was actively recruiting senior tech professionals. What was more absurd was that when we met next time, we continued with our social conversation rather than a professional one!” she says.
The lesson? If you’re capable of forming strong social networks, you’re capable of building professional bonds too.
Ask lots of questions, share your story and you never know when that mum friend or hobby pal from your social network could double up as a useful professional connection.
4. If you’re not used to online sharing, piggy-back on an event to help you get the hang of it
If you’re not much of an online networker, the idea of becoming a ‘digital sharer’ – telling your community what you’re working on and asking for their help or ideas – might not come all that easily.
A great place to start is to do it alongside something like International Working Out Loud Week, an annual event where you’re encouraged to collaborate with your communities within the context of daily themes.
When Sydney-based Technical Capability Manager at Coca-Cola Amatil, Michelle Ockers, chipped into a daily challenge to share a ‘professional need’ she was surprised by the reception.
“Working Out Loud is a ‘force multiplier’,” she writes on her professional blog. "When you Work Out Loud it builds your network – both in terms of breadth (the number of people you are connected to) and depth (familiarity or intimacy with specific people in your network)."
"Others in your network then start to act on your behalf. When you share your interests and needs, others send you relevant resources and connect you with people with the same or related interests."
"On Day 5 of WOL Week, I didn’t have to share a need – because someone in my network did this on my behalf.”
5. Keep a birthday diary
An out of the blue email is less likely to smack of ‘I want something from you’ if it coincides with your connection’s birthday.
Everyone loves when the birthday phone rings or when they get a birthday email.
Lauren Berger, CEO and Founder of InternQueen.com
“This is a great way to stay in touch and just drop them a quick email […] particularly true for people you’re unlikely to be Facebook friends with (like former bosses).”
More articles and videos on networking on the everywomanNetwork