When asked, most mid-level leaders would say that they don’t like networking.  They often equate networking with “schmoozing” or “politicking.”, and often despise it because they believe they are ineffective at it.  

There are many limiting beliefs about networking that have led people to abandon the practice, such as:

  • Promoting yourself constantly
  • More contacts = higher probability of success
  • Getting out there as much as possible

The Truth of Strategic Networking

The quickest way for leaders to reap the rewards of networking is by first shifting their perspective about the practice. The way successful leaders look at networking is as an avenue for meeting people, sharing ideas, and offering value.

Research suggests that successful leaders invest 70 percent more time networking than their underperforming colleagues. Also, managers with strong social networks are more informed, more creative, more efficient, and solve problems better than those with small social networks. 

One of the amateur career mistakes in developing your leadership skills is not having a Career Growth Circle congruent with your career goals. Also, not understanding the value of strategic networking. Clarifying and qualifying the people you want to meet is one of the key activities that will improve your development as a leader.

While strategic networking is important to continued career success, it’s even more vital when transitioning to a mid-level or senior manager role. 

Strategic networking has also been found to be positively associated with:

  • Salary growth 
  • Number of promotions, 
  • Perceived career success,
  • Current job satisfaction. 

Strategic Networking In Practice

After graduating from college, I had an interest in working for a specific global consulting firm. There was an opportunity to attend a public event held by the firm’s client. I registered, researched which employees might attend, and rehearsed my elevator pitch. I attended, gave my introduction, and inquired what I should do to apply for a consulting job. My contact within the firm advised me the best approach would be to email my resume to the General Manager and copy her. I had two months until they would begin interviews.

At the time, I had just learned about a networking technique called the Golden Triangle. The rule of the Golden Triangle is that you are at the top, on the left is an individual with a problem, and on the right is a person that has a solution. Your role is to facilitate an introduction between the two parties.

I recognized that my contact within the consulting firm wanted to meet with school principals because she had a solution to one of their problems. I set a goal to facilitate face-to-face meetings with her and three principals within two months. After that, I would send my resume as she recommended.

After two months, I successfully facilitated two face-to-face meetings, sent my resume off, interviewed for the role, and was hired. After the first year of consulting, I was informed that my initial contact gave a strong endorsement when the hiring team was deciding who would get the last interview slot. I found out that if it wasn’t for her persistent recommendation, they would have likely chosen another candidate.

The interesting thing was that my contact never saw me work with a client in the role of a consultant. However, she endorsed me because I led with value in the relationship. I helped her get what she wanted which were meetings with decision-makers.

Don’t just take my personal story as proof. In research done by DDI on leaders transitioning at all levels, as leaders ascend to more senior levels of leadership, there is an increased importance of networking skills. Additionally, 38% said support in creating a network would have helped the most. 

Take Inventory of Your Career Growth Circle

  1. Identify the 5 people you spend the most time with.
  2. How are those people influencing you?

Identify “Who” Can Get You There Faster?

  1. Write down your top 3 professional goals. 
  2. Who do you know that can accelerate the process? Write down 3 names on your new Career Growth Contact List
  3. Envision and describe your intended outcome for contacting these people. 

A common networking mistake is that people reach out to steal time without first building rapport and adding value to the relationship. Leaders at the top levels may see this as a lack of preparation on your end.

Develop a Networking Plan

  • Begin connecting with leaders at the next level above you before cultivating relationships with your ideal contacts.
  • Get involved in a career-related community.
  • Attend career and skill-related live events, seminars, conferences.
  • Cultivate your own mastermind group of career and skill-related professionals.

Execute On Your Career Growth Contact List

  1. Build rapport by asking Feel-Good Questions®. As mentioned above, the three intentions of networking are meeting people, sharing ideas, and adding value. The purpose of these questions is to simply develop initial rapport. A best practice is to facilitate a conversation around 2-3 of these questions.
    • How did you get your start in (industry)?
    • What do you enjoy most about what you do?
    • What separates you and your company from the competition?
    • What advice would you give someone just starting in the (industry)?
    • What one thing would you do with your career if you knew you could not fail?
    • What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?
    • What do you see as the coming trends in the (industry)?
    • Describe the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your career?
    • What ways have you found to be the most effective for performing your job?
    • What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you work?
  2. Identify how you can add value to the relationship. This crucial question is what will separate you from everyone looking to “get” something. Ideally, you would ask this question after you’ve built an initial rapport.
    • How can I know if someone I’m speaking with is a good contact/referral?
  3. Send a follow-up email, text, or card stating it was nice meeting them and that you welcome the opportunity to support them.
  4. Intentionally add value and consistently follow-up (e.g. sending a relevant article once a month, making a valuable connection, offering your skillset to solve a problem, etc.)

Show Appreciation

  • Write down the individuals that have influenced your professional life the most.
  • Express your appreciation and gratitude by writing a handwritten note. Do this with the intent of not expecting anything in return.
  • Consider making this a routine.

Reference – Endless Referrals by Bob Burg

Ty Miller is a trainer, facilitator, and consultant. He teaches how to lead Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion culture changes, and how to support the development of high-potential, ready next leaders.