Building a well-rounded network
Too often, young professionals’ networks lack diversity in terms of age, race, and gender, as well as role, geographic location, and industry. Just as importantly, they lack people who play specific roles. Here are a few key types of people which every network needs:
|Mentor||A mentor offers wisdom and guidance on career advancement and key career decisions. This individual (or individuals) should be an experienced business professional who understands your industry. Most importantly, your mentor should be someone you trust, respect, and admire.|
|Peers||This segment of your network should consist of people within your age group. Strive for diversity. Seek to build relationships with your fellow university alumni, both those who majored in accounting and those who chose other fields. You may even want to reach out to former fellow high school classmates.|
|Influencers||Identify “movers and shakers.” There are people whose careers have catapulted them to a respected, influential position within their industry and community. These are good people to know, particularly as your career progresses.|
|Cheerleader||You need a few people in your network who build you up and cheer you on during the challenging times in your career.|
|Grounder||These are the people who balance the cheerleaders, the realists who keep you well-grounded. Their role is to keep you in check and challenge you in your thinking, commitment, approach, actions, and reactions.|
|Prospects||Prospects are people in specific industries who will be in leadership or decision-making positions five to 10 years from now. It is never too early to start identifying prospects and adding them to your network. The key is to build genuine relationships for the long term.|
|Connectors||This segment may be the most important part of your network. Connectors are people with a large network of their own who like to share connections. They have access to people, resources, and information, and are generous with their time and their contacts.|
Analyze your current network to determine what individuals and types of contacts you need to add. Begin by developing a list of everyone you know. Identify how you know that person (e.g., by organization, school, or activity) and who introduced you.
Then determine if your network is open or closed. An open network is one where the majority of your contacts can extend your network to new connections. A closed network, on the other hand, is one where the majority of contacts are closely connected to each other.
A simple way to determine whether your network is open or closed is to identify how many people in your network know each other. If your network does not allow you to reach new contacts, then it’s closed. Then look to see if you have people from all the categories listed above, especially connectors.
Identify opportunities to expand your network
After identifying the people missing from your network, you need to strategically make new contacts. Start by identifying opportunities to meet people within your community. Here are a few ideas:
- Chambers of commerce can be great places to meet prospects, as long as you attend the same events and participate in the same committees as they do.
- Alumni organizations can introduce you to people across industries, particularly if you attended a large university offering many majors and you make an effort to diversify.
- Church groups and committees provide prime opportunities to give back while also meeting influencers and business leaders. It is not unusual to find church committees chaired by community leaders in both large and small communities.
- Charities offer another fantastic opportunity to give back while also raising your community profile.
- Interest groups such as food and wine societies, dining clubs, and cycling or running groups also provide wonderful opportunities to broaden your circle of contacts.
A few final tips
When you’re networking, keep best practices in mind. Be a committed and fully participating member of any groups you join. Stay in touch with your new contacts, and avoid reaching out to them only when you need something. Be yourself and avoid selling. Never be afraid to get to know people outside your industry or age group. Remember that building a solid network is a continuous process. By diversifying your network, you’ll improve your chances of success.