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It's Never Too Late to Nurture Your Career Network

It's Never Too Late to Nurture Your Career Network

When do most people think about nurturing their career network? 

Yes, you guessed it: when they’re desperate to leave their current job and find a new one!  This puts enormous pressure on you and on your network because, unless you’re a natural connector who has built up strategic relationships throughout their career, you’ll be relying on trying to squeeze a lot of generosity out of a small and slightly disinterested career network.

Ideally, when you are ready for a career transition, your potentially cold career network will already be warmed up and poised ready to help.

Defining your career network

For me, your career network radiates outwards with you at the centre.

Closest in, are the people that know you well.  These are your career network buddies, made up of friends, close colleagues and associates.  People that you like and who like you.  They know your strengths and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you.

The next circle out is your strategic alliances.  These are relationships that you cultivate strategically to help you grow, develop and transition.  They might be mentors or contacts within an industry or professional body.

The next circle out is lukewarm contacts consisting of people that have heard of you.  They know who you are, they might know what you do but they don’t know if you’re any good and therefore would probably not recommend you.

The circle furthest out are cold contacts consisting of people that have never heard of you.  They don’t know what you do let alone whether you are any good at it.

How do I nurture my network?

To nurture your career network, you need to be aiming for two outcomes:

  1. Increase the size of my network
  2. Move people from the outer reaches of your network inwards

The first of these, increasing the size of your network, is about your exposure.  A lot of people fear networking because they think you need to be an extroverted personality type, happy to hold court at networking events or to do presentations at conferences or industry events.  These sorts of activity certainly do build your exposure but there are also other ways to do so if these are activities that fill you with dread. 

Other ways to build your exposure would be to use social media and write a thought piece or “top tips” article on LinkedIn. 

Alternatively, you could offer the benefit of your experience and expertise to a team in another organisation.  You can even build your exposure on a one-to-one level connecting with people as a mentor or sharing industry / professional knowledge.

The second outcome you are looking for is to move people closer and closer in towards you in the centre of the network.

I like to think of the career network a bit like a business sales funnel.  A business sales funnel is a step-by-step process that enables a business to bring potential customers closer to their offer and a buying decision through a series of specific actions.  I like to think of a similar process when you’re nurturing your career network, moving them through the funnel towards being your career network buddy.

What specific steps can you make to move your network through your funnel?  Here are some ideas.

Cold contacts

Identify people who don’t know you but who you think could potentially be useful in your career network one day.  Reach out to them and see if you can meet them for coffee.  Can someone further down your funnel introduce you?  Be clear about why you want to meet them, have a strategy for the meeting and always follow up by thanking them and keeping in touch.

Lukewarm contacts

Again, reach out to these people on an individual basis.  See if you can meet them for lunch or coffee and be clear about your intentions.  Perhaps you would like to ask them to be a mentor or you would like to share industry or professional knowledge with them.  Networking should always be reciprocal so make sure that you know what the benefit is for them as well.

Strategic relationships

Make sure that you nurture these.  Maybe, one day, they will be career network buddies who will sing your praises without prompting.  In the meantime, make sure that you are putting face-time in with these people and ensuring that you demonstrate gratitude and reciprocity whenever you can.

Career network buddies

This group is already convinced that you’re great and will step in to help with your career transition whenever you ask them to.  You need to keep these relationships strong which should hopefully be easy as these are people that you like and who like you.  Don’t forget that this group can also help you to increase your network and keep filling the funnel at all levels so always keep asking them who they can introduce you to.

What can I do right now?

  1. Don’t despair if you haven’t started yet!  Now is always a great to start nurturing your network.
  2. Write down everyone in your network.  Go through the four categories and make a list of names.  Don’t dismiss family and friends for career network buddies.  You never know who your contacts know.  I’ve known people find a job because their neighbour, in an unrelated industry, knew someone that could be useful within the career network.
  3. Set yourself some goals to nurture your network.  Make sure you choose at least one goal to increase your exposure, and 1 – 3 goals for moving people through the funnel.  Be specific and give yourself a time limit.
  4. Repeat periodically.

 

Let me know how you get on with nurturing your network.  Good luck!  

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