What are your goals?
Often, people ask where they should network and are missing the first fundamental question: What are you trying to accomplish with networking?
- Are you trying to make partner or go up the corporate ladder?
- Are you looking for a new opportunity or career change?
- Are you trying to be a thought leader?
Some may be networking for several reasons, and that is fine. Knowing what you are trying to accomplish allows you to determine where you should be spending your networking time. And the where may be with individuals you know.
Remember, networking is not just about meeting someone at an event; it is how you create and strengthen connections with people.
Next, assess your current network and opportunities.
Can they provide what you are looking for?
For example, if you are hoping to make partner or be promoted:
- Who are the key decision-makers at your organization?
- How strong is your relationship with them?
- And how well do they know what you do?
If a decision-maker is someone you know but have never had a conversation with, you need to work on deepening that relationship.
Suppose management has told you that you need to handle specific projects or develop certain skills. In that case, the question is - Are there people in the organization who can help you identify and build the skills necessary to get to that next level.
If the answer is yes, you need to assess and, if necessary, strengthen your relationships with individuals. If the answer is no, are there outside organizations that can provide you with the opportunities to develop those skills?
If you are trying to expand your business development, you must understand your ideal clients and where they "hang out."
- What committees are they on?
- What conferences do they attend?
- Where do they speak?
If your goal is to develop more industry contacts, think about the strengths of your relationships through that group. Would those individuals be willing to introduce you to others? Also, what organizations do they belong to?
Remember, joining an organization will not yield results unless you attend the events or are actively involved in committees. You should look up the committees and see which committees interest you and who else is on those committees.
You should think about:
- Are there people who could help you develop business? Notice I said "people who could help you develop business," not hand you business.
- Are these people of influence who network able to connect you with others or speak on your behalf?
- Are you willing to work hard on this committee, so they are willing to help you? By working hard on this committee, you may catch the eye of people at the organization who may give you opportunities to speak, write, or lead initiatives — all of which could raise your profile and increase your circle of contacts.
Also, when you attend an organization's events, do you hang out with the same people each time? Do you need to be more open to meeting others?
What if current networking can't help you with your objectives?
Sometimes when you assess your current network and networking possibilities, you realize that they do not meet your needs.
Earlier in my career, I joined a broad women's networking organization. It was fabulous. Since the focus was on networking, it allowed me to develop those skills in a highly safe environment. I also was exposed to a ton of thought leadership on different issues and career-building skills.
Over time, the organization's value to me diminished. I evaluated my goals and limited time and decided to end my relationship with this group and focus on other organizations better aligned with my current goals. Therefore, while you are assessing your network, think about the organizations that you belong to and make sure that there is alignment.
If you are thinking of an associate at a law firm and thinking of joining an in-house law department, do the organizations you are a member of have in-house members with whom you can develop relationships? They can then share with you their experiences, advice, and perhaps opportunities they hear of.
If you are an outside counsel, are you on committees with only law firm members? Does that further your goals? It could if one of your goals is to develop a relationship as a thought leader.
If you need to find new people or places to network, guess where the first place is to figure that out. You got it - your current network.
Be very specific about what you are thinking about and why, as well as the results you want, and reach out to your existing network for their thoughts. Your contacts may put you in touch with others who can help or suggest organizations or events that may help you reach your goal. Remember to thank your network for their generosity and act on it.
After you have done all of this, map out your networking game plan, which should be part of a career or business development plan.
Finally, you must execute your strategy because if you want something to change, you need to do something differently. Part of execution is calendaring checkpoints at which you honestly ask yourself if you have followed the plan and if it has been impactful.
If it has not been impactful, think about what changes could move you closer to your goal. If it is not working, you may need to adjust it, but remember - building relationships takes time. It took me a few years of attending the same conference to develop strong relationships, so try to be patient. Although if I am honest, I could have sped up the relationship building by doing more follow-up.
Strategic and targeted networking does not mean that you ignore people or are not open to relationships with people who don't quite fit the mold you are looking for. It merely means that you are trying to increase the probability of your networking, helping you reach your goal, and using your time most strategically.
So be open to people and don't start looking around the room for who else you can talk to if the person in front of you is someone who you don't think can help you.
In fact, two women I met at events in no way fit the mold of individuals that I thought would help me achieve my goals. But guess what? They became two of my most powerful connections and advocates.
You need to be intentional and strategic with your networking. What that looks like depends on your goals and desired destination. It requires self-reflection, evaluation, and commitment to finding the right places and people.
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