Earlier this year I had the honor of teaching a session on networking for the Center for Women, Faith and Leadership at the Institute for Global Engagement. I have never read a book on networking. I've never taken a class or been professionally coached. It’s just something I naturally do. When I was asked to put together my lesson plan, I didn’t even know where to begin. How do you teach something innate?

After some research, it turns out that there is a method to my madness and why the networking principles I follow and share with others have resonated so well over the years. It also turns out that there’s a very good reason why the rules of effective networking continue to be written and taught in classrooms and convention halls everywhere: The strength and type of network you have is the #1 predictor of career success. And because the topic of networking can feel overwhelming and complex, I’ve broken it down into four simple tips.

Tip #1: Know the effective Networking Ground Rules

It is important that you approach networking as a way to connect with people in an authentic way. If you approach networking with the idea of “What can I get out of this meeting?” then it will be difficult to form a meaningful connection that could eventually lead to a long-lasting working relationship and/or potentially a friendship. I like to focus on creating meaningful connections, being my authentic self and understanding how I can first help others when I am networking. I believe this chart provides a simple set of guideposts and definitions for networking do's and don'ts:

Networking Is:

Networking Is Not:

Meeting and getting to know people while being willing to share information and advice.

Asking for a job or an introduction to a connection.

Building ongoing relationships to exchange information and advice.

Collecting business cards and spamming people on LinkedIn.

Following up and maintaining contact with those who have assisted you.

Randomly passing out resumes or requests for help.

Symbiotic

Using people for your own personal gain and one-sided relationships.

 

Tip #2: Understand That Not All professional Networking Is the Same

Networking is critical to career success because, not only does it help us create more opportunities for ourselves, it allows us to solve more problems by accessing a more diverse skillset than our own. However, not all professional networking is the same. According to multiple studies, being in an open network vs closed network is the #1 predictor of career success.

So what is an open network?

An open network is where you are the link between people from different clusters and backgrounds, sometimes referred to as weak ties. If you focus too much on your strong ties which tend to be within your closed networks (i.e. people in similar industries, cultures, lines of work, etc.), you risk having confirmation bias because it’s likely that these people think and do many of the same things you think and do. More opportunities and solutions to problems will present themselves when you are exposed to ideas that are different than your own. As University of Chicago network scientist, Ron Burt, illustrates below, there is a positive correlation between one’s compensation, evaluations and promotions and the strength of their open network where weak ties are more likely to reside.

 Network_1_DO_NOT_DELETE.png

 Copyright © 2015 Forbes, concept originated by Ron Burt, Professor at University of Chicago.

For me, knowing the difference in open networks vs closed networks was an important delineation to understand. As someone who is friendly, talks to everyone and has built a large network, I always thought I had an open network. But once I started evaluating the diversity of my network, I realized that many people in my network think just like me or have similar work or life experiences. I challenge you to think deeply about the diversity of your network.

Tip #3: Work the Weak Ties and They Will Work Hard For You

Weak ties have the greatest upside potential within your network. How so? Sociologist Mark Granovetter showed that people were 58 percent more likely to get a new job through weak ties than strong ties. Our closest contacts tend to know the same people and information as we do. Weak ties run in different circles and learn/hear/read different things, so they can offer more access to a broader diversity of interesting information and potentially fruitful connections.

Network_2_DO_NOT_DELETE.png

 

One area I've challenged myself to focus on is to reach out to my dormant ties. Who are dormant ties? They are people that you used to know but have not spoken with in a while. These folks could be your graduate school classmates, college classmates or childhood friends. A study conducted by Daniel Levin, Jorge Walter, and Kellogg School of Management Professor Keith Murnighan asked hundreds of executives to seek advice on a major work project from two dormant ties. When they compared to the advice from current contacts, the dormant ties provided more valuable information and solutions than their current network.

TL;DR: So Why Is My Network Important Again?

  • You’ve probably heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” as a primary reason why people get “that job” or “that promotion” or “that opportunity”.
  • The type of network you create (open vs. closed) is critically important. Being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success.
  • Weak ties present potential as they run in different circles and learn/hear/read different things.

What Can We Learn From Paul Revere?

Paul Revere and William Dawes are two men who rode horseback from Boston on April 18, 1775 to declare the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Paul Revere is famous and William Dawes is less known. Why? Because Paul Revere was an “information broker” and he had an open network. As the visuals below demonstrate, by identifying and accessing key people who were different than Revere, information he shared spread faster to diverse groups of people. Because William Dawes formed a network around himself, information he shared spread only to his inner circle and not as quickly. What's the lesson in a nutshell? Building relationships with people outside your field of work not only help you be more informed, they can help amplify your message.

Network_3_DO_NOT_DELETE.png

Tip #4: Map Your effective Network for Greater Impact

I believe that everyone should carve out a couple hours a few times each year for evaluating and diagnosing the health of your network. Start by creating a list of your contacts, then determine who introduced you to each contact and ask yourself if you have introduced this contact to anyone else. If you’ve introduced yourself to your key contacts more than 65 percent of the time, then your network is inbred. For more information on this, read the Harvard Business Review article, “How to Build Your Network.” Page three of the article gives a great explanation on how to diagnose your network.

After you diagnose your network, the next step is to make a plan for expanding your network to create a more open one. Think of your dormant contacts and other people you’d like to meet. When I meet someone, I ask them to introduce me to someone they think I should know in their network. While this may still create a closed network at first, if you commit to doing this regularly and intentionally seek out networking opportunities outside of your usual comfort zone, your network will naturally grow and become more diverse over time.

To illustrate an example of this in action, I’ll give a shoutout to my alma mater as well as one of the most influential professors I’ve ever had, Robert Wolcott, who developed the Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN). Seven years ago, I attended a KIN dinner as one of Professor’s Wolcott’s students. What impressed me most was the small, intimate group of artists, dancers, singers, musicians, business leaders, government leaders, doctors, journalists, book authors and the Stradivarius violin played that evening. As someone with also many diverse talents and interests, it was inspiring. For the first time, I felt like I truly belonged and I had something interesting to talk about with everyone in the room. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate the deliberate intent on Professor Wolcott’s part to bring together such a diverse group. Now understanding the importance and amount of effort involved in building these types of networks, I appreciate the role of super connectors like Professor Wolcott who understand the benefits and qualities of great open networks and know how bring it all together.

I challenge you to take a page out of Paul Revere and Professor Wolcott's book and follow my four simple tips for understanding, evaluating, diagnosing and mapping your current and ideal network. I guarantee your career will benefit

If you are as excited as me about the positive impact that networking can have upon your career, my next post will be about how I built my own effective network and what tools I use to help me manage my online network. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts about what has worked for you as well. Please tweet us at @dialexa

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