Evaluating the Strength of Your Network Isn’t Just About Who & How Many You Know
Most people find networking distasteful. Unfortunately, the way we’ve been trained to think of it as a mechanism to use others to get what we want. I often try to steer people away from thinking of networking as strip mining, and more as the careful cultivation of a garden where we support and sustain others over time.
I push others not to measure the value of people by what they’ve accumulated, and yet so many persist in just doing that. Case in point when I speak to jobseekers they are often fixated by the following questions:
- How many people are you connected to on LinkedIn?
- What are the big brands, people, or companies that you are associated with in Tech, Media, Government, etc.?
- How quickly do the ‘important people’ get back to you & your requests?
I’ve shared in the past that the most important question you can ask in networking is, “what can I do for you?” because it sets up a world of mutual aid.
I’ve been pondering networking in a few other ways recently and want to offer to you two other ways for you to assess the vitality of your network and quality of your networking.
- Does your current network only reflect your current job and profession?
- Does your current network look like you?
Your network should reflect the diversity of experiences you’ve had in your life. The people who become the foundation of your network, can and should, come from where you have been educated, worked, and meaningfully connected across experience and context throughout your life.
That’s a lot of words. Simply said, one way to “de-smarm” your network is to have it consist of the compelling people you’ve known throughout all of your life. These are people who’ve seen you grow and can advocate for you as an individual far beyond a current role. Saying I played on X team or did Y activity in college grounds you as a person to others far beyond your current title.
I recently posted on social media that the subjects that I have been using as interviewees from my Winding Road pieces in this column have come from truly every aspect of my life. Sure, some are folks that I’ve worked with, but the vast majority are people that I’ve met at school, on a trip or at an event where I found them interesting and remained in touch. Most of these individuals don’t work in my field, but we share an interest in others, want to be helpful if possible and usually, because of my bias, I find them smart, funny & passionate about something in their life.
I’m on a bit of a holiday as I write this and decided to stop by at a game store where I had a great chat with the proprietor, now in his 70s. He started out growing up in a logging family and became a logger himself for a decade, then decided that trees can be dangerous and went to college and became an accountant for three decades. After retiring he and his wife decided to open up a game store. I suspect that I will be interviewing him in the coming months and hope to remain in contact.
There are amazing people everywhere! A few things to keep in mind as you consider what else you want to bring into this garden of yours.
-When you are out in the world, always be open to connecting with and listening to others. I can be moody too, but if you don’t keep out the welcome sign very few people will approach.
-Locate people that intrigue you and recognize that this doesn't/shouldn't mean they have to be the same age, race, gender, geography, field, etc. Remember that when paths are winding almost anyone can use our help or be of help.
Follow-up. Follow-up with a genuine interest in them. Follow-up with a genuine interest in them and their well-being. Yes, all of those things for emphasis.
If you do these things you will be floored by who you will meet and how rich you are in good people around you.
Your current network should also not exclusively look like or be like you.
If your network does look exactly like you, you likely have or will have a problem. The greater the diversity of your network across a spectrum that includes education, experience, age, gender, orientation, ability, nationality, race, class, etc. means you are less well equipped to understand how to solve most complex problems or have people that you can turn to grasp things that are beyond your lived experience. No one expects you to know everything, but increasingly your wealth consists of those who might shepherd you through something beyond your lived experience.
I’ll grant you that for some people trying to diversify by bringing on the famous and the wealthy can seem impossible. And there will be folks along the way who will dismiss you based on your role or industry, but there are tons of people who don’t see the world in that way. They are happy to meet kind people, who are honest with them and trying to figure out their professional path.
I have made an active effort to show up in a variety of kinds of places because I find so many things so interesting–and I see how little I know about so much of what work people do and aspire to do in the world.
Now take a moment and think about your network. Where are they from? Who are they? Future proof yourself by going broader.