There’s a reason the word “networking” has “work” in it—it takes effort, initiative, and drive to network purposefully and effectively. It’s not easy, and can be really terrifying when you’re just starting out. Effective networking starts with being purposeful about what you’re doing; putting time into building career connections that can diversify and offer you a fresh perspective is essential.
Make the whole process more fun with a go-to ice breaker to get the conversation going—we love a good virtual happy hour to celebrate that week’s wins with a La Marca Prosecco mini in hand. Remember that networking and building connections don’t have to be ultra serious or devoid of fun. Make them meaningful conversations that spark thoughtful ideas and help you release a bit of tension from a challenging week or toast a win, big or small.
To get you started, we’ve put together a list of connections (or reconnections) to make over the course of your career:
1. A Lifetime Mentor
Many of our mentors or sponsors come and go as we change jobs, but one of your best network additions will be a mentor who sees you through the course of your career. A “lifetime” mentor can provide you that long-term perspective and help you reflect on how you’ve grown over time.
Look for your lifetime mentor among an immediate manager that may have assisted you developmentally. And remember, to keep someone in your network over the long haul, it takes effort. Schedule periodic check-ins over coffee and always offer to pay it forward.
2. A Thought Leader
We’re increasingly in an ideas economy. Staying on the cutting edge of your field means that you need to know what big ideas are brewing, where the industry is headed, and how your sector may transform. What do you read? What conferences do you go to? Find a person or “thought leader” whose future vision of your work feels meaningful to you, then track their work and keep in touch.
How do you find a thought leader in your world? You probably have a lot in your purview that you might not recognize! Again, look to what you read or events in your industry you’ve enjoyed. Identify speakers or authors that speak to you.
3. An Academic in Your Field
Similarly, being excellent at your work often means understanding some of the emerging views coming out of academia. Often times academic colleagues are also closely connected to firms’ talent pipelines. You might also be able to find unique opportunities to bring students into your company for short-term intern programs or special task forces that can be useful for the school and your company.
Universities often keep blogs for each respective area of expertise. This more informal publication can be a great way to identify an expert who is working on a topic of interest to you.
4. A Teacher from Your Youth
Giving back to your alma mater (or even your high school) is an important piece of networking. It can help you source new talent for your industry. Schools are also a great place to ensure you stay plugged in with events, alumni offerings, and to leverage the built in network from your previous academic experience.
Checking in with your alma mater should be super straightforward! Alumni networks are in place just for that purpose. And, even reaching out to the registrars office is a great way to keep in touch. School connections can also be a great place to look for speaking or panel opportunities as you continue to build your public profile and brand in your field.
5. The Incumbent in Your Dream Job
Cold pitches may seem a little intimidating. However, a thoughtfully crafted pitch to the person who is currently in your dream job can pay all kinds of dividends. Remember, you’re not explicitly on the hunt for this seat in your ask, but want to learn about the path that got them to where they are today.
Be incredibly thoughtful and tactical in this outreach. If this is someone who works inside your current organization, see if your current manager or a mentor can help broker an introduction. You want to use this person’s time really effectively. Ask them if they may have time for a brief call (15 minutes) and send along an agenda of three direct questions. What are the things they could answer for you about career development that no one else could? Use that time wisely!
6. The Most Junior Person Doing Your Job
A well-structured network is purposefully built to pay it forward. That means it’s important for you to connect with people at all levels of seniority. There is always something to be learned from those who are coming up in the organization who are more junior than you are. And, more importantly, think how amazing it feels to have someone senior in the organization take an interest in your work. You’ll be encouraging, supporting, and helping the next generation of leaders in your field.
Think of the skills you currently have that a newer generation could benefit from. You may consider setting up some informal roundtables, “lunch and learn” sessions, or a panel of your mid-level peers.
7. A Skills Coach
Part of career success is identifying our flat spots. Whether it is around the technical aspects of your job or around softer skills like building emotional intelligence, a skills coach is an important network addition. Through your annual review process or your own self-assessments, figure out the two or three skills you really want to refine. Ask around and recognize among your contacts who excels there, and get them on the books for a coaching coffee.
Who can play the role of skills coach? Often our own immediate peer set is a great place to look. If you saw a colleague rock a public speaking gig, be sure to pay her that compliment. Then, ask if you can put a coffee date on the books for her best tips, or, if she’d be willing to be the audience for your own future prep sessions.
8. An Interviewing Expert
Interview skills are tricky. It’s one of those capabilities that we may not practice often if we stay in a job we love for years, or have promotion opportunities. That means that when it’s time to hit the interview circuit and find a new job, we might need some brushing up. It is essential to find that colleague or senior leader who always seems to have the best interview tips. Book them for practice sessions and offer to do the same for the more junior people they connect with.
It can feel a little fake to completely practice an interview start to finish, but especially in our digital days, it’s worth being really deliberate here. Sometimes the best interview experts are of course our HR colleagues, but also those who work in high volume or frequently turning over positions. They’ve seen a lot of resumes!
9. Your Polar Opposite
As someone who has worked in finance her whole career, folks who have done the same tend to be most of my network. But that’s the fastest way for your network to simply become an insular echo chamber. For new thoughts, new ideas, and to give you a fresh perspective on career opportunities, find your “opposite.” For example, that means I’ve been deliberately trying to add more colleagues in the arts, sciences, and non-profit world to my set of connections.
To expand that horizon, I have to go a little outside of my comfort zone. It means asking other friends who they know in those industries. And, it means that I may need to employ some of the same tactics you use to make friends as an adult, like saying yes to a lot more invitations and being “social” on social media. Which leads us to…
10. A Social Media & Branding Rockstar
Whether or not we’re in the social space, branding and messaging matters. Building your personal brand ensures that you can articulate exactly how your skills and expertise match with opportunities over the course of your career. Find that social and marketing expert in your world and stay on top of the tips that keep your digital first impression fresh and current.
What could this person help you with? The debate rages on over how SEO continues to evolve for professional profiles like LinkedIn. But, it certainly can’t hurt to have your expert colleague provide you some feedback on the language you’re using to describe your achievements. They can also keep you posted on newer networks, and really help you refine the target audience for your skills and talents.
Tips for Making Socially Distanced Connections
These networking efforts can be challenging in the best of times. In 2020, networking needs a whole different set of skills. It’s nearly impossible to do the same “grab coffee” routine we’ve all gotten used to. And, even if restrictions are lighter where you are, you don’t want to put colleagues in the awkward position of declining an in-person invite. The good news is, our all-virtual world has some perks.
It’s never been easier to drop slightly dormant contacts a “How Have You Been?” note. Flag an interesting article, share a story of a project you’ve worked on, or simply ask how they’ve been maintaining their network this year. Do they know of any virtual industry events? Have they read or attended any webinars of interest? Simply sharing stories around how work is changing and staying connected can be a big part of sustaining and building our network this year. It’s also really important to build digital visibility. Get active on your work-related social channels. Comment on others’ posts, and take the bold step of creating content yourself. This could look like some sort of newsletter on your industry, or round up of interesting reads that are relevant to your peers. (Be sure to check in with your compliance colleagues that this doesn’t pose a problem for your day job!)
Lastly, virtual industry events now give you a perfect hit list of experts you can reach out to and connect with. Drop a note via LinkedIn or see if the event shares contact information for presenters. A simple, “Hi – I really enjoyed your webinar presentation on building new digital marketing channels. I’d like to share a few interesting papers our team has put out on the topic, and get your quick feedback on part of a project we’re undertaking. Do you have 15 minutes for a call?” Make sure, however, it is a super brief, pointed call, and voice only unless they offer otherwise. We’re all completely burnt from sitting on video all day for our actual day job, so it’s best to keep as light a footprint as possible with new contacts.
If you want to add a fun spin, invite them for a 30-minute virtual happy hour. Grab a La Marca Prosecco mini (prosecco makes everything better) and just have a loose, after-work chat. Remember that not all your connections have to be stringently work-related. You want to start a relationship with this person, so don’t be afraid to inject some personality! And chances are, after a full day of work-related calls, they’ll welcome the chance to relax over some bubbly and just talk and enjoy.
You’d be surprised how many people will take you up on this, especially if you have a robust public profile and a well-built digital work presence. And, using this approach allows you to network far beyond your own backyard. Get creative! Ever wonder how your work is done in London? In Shanghai? Stretch your comfort zone and use our virtual world to expand your networking horizons.
La Marca Prosecco is an elegant sparkling wine grown in the heart of Italy’s Prosecco region. La Marca Prosecco believes in celebrating the joy in everyday moments, including the tireless work that so many women go through to make their dreams come true. A focus on career empowerment has always been part of The Everygirl’s mission and our partnership with La Marca Prosecco has helped us take that mission into the real world with live and virtual events, small business grants, and more. Let’s raise a glass to that!
This post is sponsored by La Marca Prosecco but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl Media Group editorial board.