I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, especially when it comes to your career. Whether it’s taking a job just to pay the bills (been there!) or taking a role that is far from your dream job just to get your foot in the door (done that!), it can be easy to wonder if all of these random jobs will ever get you where you want to go. In a world where we regularly see people in our networks announcing a shiny new job offer or promotion on LinkedIn, it’s easy to feel down about working a less-than-stellar job. But all is not lost, because even if it’s not your dream role, making the most out of any opportunity can take you places you’d never expect.
I’ve been there a few times in my career. But one role, in particular, stands out. I knew I wanted to work in the content and editorial world, but it can be hard to break into the industry (gird your loins indeed!). After trying and failing to get a job in the fashion world, I took an entry-level position as a copy editor at a digital publication and bravely walked into the full-time working world.
That role ended up being a lot of fun, helped me learn key skills that I still use today, and gave me my first steady paycheck. But those actually weren’t the best things I walked away with. I ended up meeting someone there who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would help me to grow my career to new heights in a number of ways in the coming years. Put in more basic terms, I learned the power of weak ties—how your acquaintances can actually be more helpful in some situations than your close friends and family—something which I definitely wasn’t taught in college.
I met this individual in the office one day when our desks were rearranged, and we found ourselves sitting close together. She was on a different team and from what I could tell, we didn’t have much in common. Her desk was full of DIYs she had made herself (I can barely color in a coloring book), she was older than me (which seemed very significant when I was only 22 and intimidated by anyone with a smidge of work experience), and she already had a strong network of connections in the office with whom she regularly hung out with. I figured we’d be friendly to each other and go about our business like regular coworkers. But we ended up connecting way beyond that.
Throughout the time that we sat together, she gave me a lot of industry tips. And we bonded over our adopted dogs. When I ended up leaving the company for a different role in an entirely new industry, she leveraged her connections to get me a meeting with the hiring director. And a few years later, she randomly invited me into a top-secret Slack group for marketers in our city (who even knew those existed?!) which is where I found my current role that I love. That, and I ended up tripling my salary over the course of four years as I changed jobs which is something I can tie directly back to my colleague (#blessed).
Here are some of the things I learned from this relationship that has helped me grow and build an authentic network and similar connections with other people.
How To Create Meaningful Connections
Be open to connecting with anyone
As I mentioned, I didn’t think that this person was going to completely change my career trajectory. That was largely driven by the fact that I had no idea how networking worked. And I didn’t think there was much value in building connections with people outside of my direct department. Anyone who knows anything about networking will tell you that is totally backward. And I’m glad I learned sooner rather than later because the best connections expose you to people you otherwise wouldn’t probably know—AKA you need to know people outside of your department!
By building up a genuine friendship with someone who I otherwise wouldn’t have gravitated toward, I exposed myself to a huge network of her connections which she leveraged when I was looking to make a job switch. I wouldn’t have had access to most of these people or resources had I not made the effort to be open to learning more about her and her role when we worked together many years ago.
Find common ground
It’s all well and good to be nice to random people in your office. But what if you have nothing to talk about?! There’s nothing worse than being forced to make small talk about the weather every day. So it’s important to find something in common and build a connection around that. Most people are happy to talk about things they are passionate about. You just need to do some detective work to figure out what that is.
In my case, we both had adopted dogs and would swap stories of their antics. But for you, it could be that you share a love of craft breweries or wear similar clothing—seriously, I once became great friends with a VP in my department because I noticed her wearing a sweater I also owned and then figured out that we had the same style. I used to tell her about ongoing sales all the time. It’s easier to build a network when you have an “in” with each person outside of your direct working relationship.
Nurture your connections
Once you’ve found common ground, it’s important to nurture your relationships with these people, even if you don’t know if they can help you down the road. In my opinion, this is the hardest part of fostering authentic connections. With the person in my story, we’d stay in touch over text about industry news and occasionally grab lunch, slowly becoming more friends than colleagues. If there’s something I see that reminds me of a past colleague or connection, I take 30 seconds to send them a quick email. Most people love to receive genuine messages on LinkedIn along the lines of “thinking of you!” in a way that isn’t looking for something in return, so be that person. Sometimes one text or LinkedIn DM a year is all it takes for them to keep you top-of-mind.
Remember that it’s a two-way street
On that note, if you want your connections to hook you up with amazing networking and job opportunities, you need to be open to doing the same for them. One of the most annoying things is having a connection who only reaches out when they want something. Even if you stand to gain absolutely nothing, be the person who sends a job opportunity to someone who sounds like a perfect fit, offers to introduce them to a hiring manager if they decide to apply to a role at your company, or even just invites them to join an industry event you think they’ll like. All of that good karma is not just so that they’ll potentially help you down the road, it also helps you build a shining reputation as someone that everyone wants to know.
If it’s not working, don’t force it
As much as this strategy has a 95% chance of success (my own data, of course), there’s always a handful of people who you won’t mesh with no matter what. If you’ve tried the above strategies and aren’t seeing any traction in the form of replies to your messages or an equal showing of interest, it’s OK to just let it go. I’ve had this happen a handful of times. And while it’s not fun being left on read, I don’t sweat it. As long as you aren’t burning bridges or only reaching out to people because you need something, trust that the other connections you have will help you out when you need it. That person you never quite connected with might even circle back around years later for a random reason. This is where trusting things to play out as they should in your career is super valuable!
Play the long game
We all wish fostering weak ties was one of those one-and-done things, but it’s unfortunately not. Having friends and connections to lean on whenever you need them takes work. But it is SO worth it. Since I befriended my work colleague five years ago, she introduced me to a future manager at a cocktail party and then invited me into a Slack group where everyone shares the inside scoop on jobs and events before they’re public.
Everyone knows that applying through a portal is the absolute last way that you want to apply for a role. So having these kinds of resources and a network that wants you to succeed is truly priceless. Remember that you never know where life will take you, so it’s important to be nice to everyone you meet along the way (ugh, mom is right again) and trust that everything in your career happens for a reason!