If you had to decide on one initiative to focus on for your career development, building a powerful network would be the best use of your time and energy. Despite the constant focus on social networking, it is all the more important to think strategically about who you need in your network, how to go about building those relationships and then how to nurture your connections. Leadership Coach, Katie Kelley, shared tips for building your own powerful network:
1) Sketch Your Rough Career Trajectory
Before you begin to solicit help and connections, you need to have a rough idea of where it is you want to head in your career. Undoubtedly, this can be the most challenging part for many people who simply are not sure what they want to do 'when they grow up'. Despite these feelings, I encourage your viewers to push themselves to jot down on a piece of paper a potential career trajectory of where they sit today to where they might like to be working in 5, 10 or 15 years. Again, the key is that this is a working document, as very few people are crystal clear on exactly what they want to do long term. My advice is to pull from what may be a natural progression from your current skill set and experience as well as what brings you happiness, great satisfaction and perhaps more money or flexibility in your schedulereally whatever most motivates you to move your career forward.
2) Identify Peers, Experts , Mentors & Sponsors
My business colleague, Cindy Tortorici of The Link for Women teaches that a true network should include peers, experts and mentors. Peers are your colleagues who hold a similar position to you both inside and outside your organization and your industry. Again, think outside of the group of people whom you interact with every day and expand your peer community so that you can gain richer perspective, learn about industry trends and break down the isolation and burnout that develops when you remain purely focused within your cubicle. Secondly, identify and then follow socially as well as in person experts who will provide you with tools, direction and inspiration for your career progression. Examples of experts are coaches, consultants, specific industry experts, professors, writers, bloggers, etc. Third, identify a mentor or a sponsor. There can be some confusion around what these roles entail and how to propose them. A mentor typically is someone who has already had their own career success accomplishing what you aim to do yourself. They provide you with a bigger picture perspective and help you to consider ideas and relationships that you need to get you where you want to go. A sponsor is someone who holds a senior role in your organization and will fight for you behind closed doors. Meaning they believe in you and will go to bat for you when you are up for a promotion or a growth opportunity.
3) Organize & Nurture Your Network
I find the best way to easily organize my network is my making sure I connect with folks on LinkedIn. You can link a Twitter account to your profile and post regular updates there with your latest accomplishments or wins at work as well as enriching and thought provoking articles or resources. A colleague of mine, Cindy Pain of Lee Hecht Harrison in Seattle is a LinkedIn expert and she mentioned to me recently that she finds that people most often forget to nurture their network. Some of her suggestions for how to do this are: Check out what is happening on your LinkedIn homepage several times a day. If you see someone you haven't connected with in a while send them message inquiring how they are. If someone suggests an article or makes a comment worth adding your comment then make that comment below theirs or simply click like. Just these simple steps will remind your network that you follow them and remain interested in them. It is probably more than most people reach out to their network. In fact if you invest one hour a week to reaching out to your network (do it at lunch during your work week) you will have put in about 46 hours in a year's time. WOW, now that is nurturing your network!
4) Adopt an Entrepreneurial Mindset
Particularly in this economy where there are less certainties about how long you or your partner might work at your particular organizationit is critical that you adopt an entrepreneurial mindset with your network. What I mean by this is to view your network as your best guarantee of a safety net should you or your partner loose a job, or find yourself having to relocate unexpectedly to an unknown cityor if you find yourself at a career crossroads and decide to delve into an completely different industry; it will behoove you to have established and nurtured an active and powerful network that will support and guide you in your new situation.
5) Practice Your Manners
If your viewers do nothing else today, remembering to practice basic manners as well as common sense with their network will serve them immensely when they are in need of their support. If you don't follow up with people as requested, send them thank you notes for people's time and generosities, then they are not going to want to refer you to anyone as your poor manners will reflect poorly on them. Sometimes the simplest gestures are forgotten these days or considered unnecessary or antiquated. However I fully believe that if you practice being mindful of people's time, considerate of their schedule and boundaries and grateful for what they do for youthey will easily not only return the same gestures to you but also be happy to introduce you to some critical people for your career and overall development, should you be in need of that.