The people we surround ourselves with dramatically impact all aspects of our life and work. The more you connect with colleagues and mentors who share your commitment to career development, the more likely you are to rise — and enjoy the process. Here’s how to network intentionally to create meaningful connections and not just wear out your handshake.
Network with a Game Plan
Every person you know has the potential to connect you to the perfect new hire, vendor or career-changing advice. But you can’t spend your whole day building contacts. When you network with a game plan for how you want to grow, you create opportunities to both expand your relationships and deepen connections that may prove invaluable.
Author of How to Be a Power Connector, Judy Robinett, says networking is a critical skill for career advancement. Reflecting on her early career, she explains, “I looked around and figured out that people hit the wall unless they know how to network.”
Robinett turned to relationship science to create the 5+50+150 Rule for networking. Five is the number of people most of us have within our inner circle of family and friends. Fifty is the sweet spot for the number of people with which you can realistically and meaningfully engage. “You only need 50 really good folks and you can make anything happen,” Robinett says. And 150 is the number at which groups fall apart under their own weight.
Beyond the handshake
You likely already have basic connections to colleagues in your field. It gets a little trickier to expand your network beyond your immediate sphere and to deepen it in ways that create truly mutually beneficial relationships. Here’s how to get started:
Start by moving away (yes away). Get some distance from people who don’t inspire you or who sap your energy. Increasing the size of your network just for the sake of size will wear you out more than build you up.
Be interested in others. We connect with people on a personal level first. “Focus on finding common ground and building rapport,” Robinett advises. She recommends starting by talking about the things people care about most: family, health, pets, hobbies, and then moving on to what you’re tackling at work.
Participate in specific networking and industry events. Whether it’s through Meetup, WFF Exchanges or the WFF Leadership Conference, meaningful connections come through real engagement and working toward shared goals. Volunteer for committees, serve as an officer and head special projects. These activities provide the double benefit of helping you grow your leadership skills as well.
Diversify your reach. Just like a healthy investment portfolio, your network should reflect many forms of diversity to offer the broadest range of support and advantage. Build bridges with people significantly older or younger, in different segments of the Food Industry, in different functional areas and even in different industries. When you stretch your outer circle, you’re likely to meet new faces.
Consider non-career organizations. The people you play tennis with or meet through a travel group or book club can also be great sources of career advice with the added benefit of offering fresh perspectives. You might also feel more comfortable letting your hair down with someone outside your working life.
Your alma mater also likely has an alumni chapter nearby that will connect you to people at various career stages and in an array of fields. And, you get the built-in bias of people wanting to help a fellow Tiger, Wildcat, Bulldog or whatever mascot you share.
Spread the word. Let existing contacts know you are seeking input around a certain topic or want to spread your wings a bit and would enjoy meeting new people in your field or industry. People enjoy making helpful connections.
Offer value. A major difference between networking and using people is your commitment to share your resources as well. Proactively search for ways to be of service to those you’d like to add to your expanded network. Make a point of truly understanding their work and challenges and look for ways to be helpful.
Treat everyone with respect. Sounds obvious, but people often go wrong here. Others notice if you fawn over senior leaders and discount their support staff. Everyone you meet in your career has the potential to advocate for or against you in the future.
Whether you’re a pro or struggle with networking, WFF has your back. WFF online Communities of Interest and extensive networking events during the annual Leadership Conference ensure you never have to go it alone.