A strong network is like money in your bank, or so they say.
Porter Gale, in her recent book Your Network is Your Networth explains that networking is a new beast and that we need to forget our old networking traditions to survive. The old, stuffy lunches and sterile evenings at business gatherings are redundant. We've now entered a new technological era in which networking can (and has) become more focused, efficient and importantly, enjoyable.
Porter, even goes as far as suggesting that
Your ability to build a network of authentic personal and professional relationships, not your financial capital, is the most important asset in your portfolio.
Why is your network your net-worth?
Less job security
A 2010 Deloitte survey found that nearly half of all employees say a loss of trust in their employers will cause them to look for a new job.
Between 1999 and 2010, the share of workers who said they were satisfied with their job dropped from 59 % to 25 %. The reality is that no matter how much you like your job or your company, you can, at any given time, be forced into unemployment.
Workplaces guarantees are a thing of the past and in this climate its important to recognise that the best path to job security, is yourself.
Look internally for job safety, don't make silly assumptions that others will take charge of your career.You need to build your skills-sets, networks and understanding of your field, independently.
Technology has accelerated networking, reduced the degree of separation between contacts and revolutionised the way we connect.
We can find niche online communities (eg. contract lawyer surfers) at the click of a mouse, making new relationships a group request away.
Referrals are king
Combining both points 1 and 2, employers are utilising tech advances to secure new posts particularly through referrals, which is great news for those connected but detrimental to the un-connected, un-employed.
Big companies like Ernst & Young are increasingly using their own workers to find new hires, saving time and money the trend, experts say, has been amplified since the end of the recession by a tight job market and by employee networks on LinkedIn and Facebook, which can help employers find candidates more quickly and bypass reams of applications from job search sites like Monster.com.
How to build your network in the new era of networking
It takes focus and intention to build a solid professional network. Connecting with Ben because he shares your sense of humour, is obviously a good reason for friendship but professionally, adds little to no value.
A very interesting point raised by Barbara Annis and Associates in their White Paper, Solutions to Women’s Advancement, is that women’s failure to network strategically is one of their biggest career pitfalls.
While men network for transactional reasons, women will network for relational reasons. That is, men will network to obtain something, while women network for relationships and connections.
Preparation is key - identify who you already know and then, who you need to know, to help you reach your career goals.
2. Create a diverse network
Research from University of Chicago Booth School of Business on this topic confirms the importance of a diverse network.
Indeed, it might not be who or what you know that creates advantage, but rather more simply, who you become by dint of how you hang out—the disadvantaged hang out with folks just like themselves, while the advantaged engage folks of diverse opinion and practice.
3. Leverage networking gains
Asking for favours actually helps you to build a stronger, more reliable network.
Step 1 - identify the right people, those who have power and influence and who would be willing to recommend you.
Step 2 - build and nurture relationships of trust.
Step 3 - leverage the relationship by always being willing to help others and ask for assistance when you need it.
Another interesting point raised by Forbes contributor Bonnie Marcus is that women are less likely to ask for favours.Their hesitancy to ask puts them at a distinct disadvantage to men who use their relationships to gain visibility and as such advance their careers.
4. Create a networking habit
A small but important point - schedule one day per week to network. If you don't schedule time each week, your default behaviour will be to not go.
Always make it a strategic networking occasion. By intentionally building on your "power network" you won't get home and feel like you've wasted your time.
5. Focus your social media towards your networking efforts
Many of us leave social media to millennials and in doing so, are at high risk of being left behind.
The key to social media networking is, strategy. You need to cut through all the noise. If you don't know what you're doing on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter you'll be left with a network you don't know, entirely irrelevant to your career aspirations.
Keep a close eye on your social media network, could (or would you) send a private message, to a person in your contacts list because it could make a mutually beneficial networking occasion? If the answer is no, than discreetly delete or ignore their invitation to connect. You need to operate online, in a focused and targeted way. The point is, that the number of contacts in your online network, is not nearly as important as the quality.