Most people don't understand the power and impact a strong professional network can provide to their lives. The bottom line is your network is the most valuable asset you have as a job-seeker, employee, or manager — so long as it is diverse, strategic and nurtured.
What do I mean by all these buzzwords? Let me give you an example. When I host a party at my home I am always interested in how I can add value to a friend's life. Recently, I was talking with a new friend who had just taken the bar exam after law school and was looking for full-time opportunities.
I immediately thought of all the other lawyers that were at my house at the time and made it a point to introduce them to each other throughout the night. I love helping people connect like that. It has almost become a game to me at this point. Kind of like, "Tell me something you need or want to happen because I probably know someone in my network who can help you make it happen."
Why exactly is this so powerful? Let me break it down. Opportunities are tied to people and people like to work with others that share common interests and that they can trust. Forming these bonds and adding value to others constantly will ensure that they will pick up the phone when you call or respond promptly to your email.
It doesn't matter what you do in your job or company, it doesn't matter what level you are at, relationships matter for your effectiveness, reputation, and success.
Now let's assess where you stand in your strategic relationship building. I'm going to cover the wrong approaches and mistakes that people make when networking.
1. Networking In The Wrong Places
If you are constantly attending “network after work” events or “networking groups” and had little success, it's because you are casting far too broad of a net. I see this a lot with people who are in the job market. They attend career fairs or other large networking events only to leave feeling deflated and no closer to their goals — because what they are looking for isn't there.
Think about it this way: You need to know what outcomes you want and who is the best person to help you. If you are looking to get hired at a specific company, then you want to meet hiring managers who are in the position to help you.
2. They Network At The Wrong Level For Their Goals
Instead of building relationships with successful people in a position to assist you, most people spend time with people at their same level, with the same skills, or lower. If you ever attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting or a business networking group where everyone there is looking for referrals, then you know what I mean.
Networking at your current level is more comfortable, but it won't get you where you want to be and accelerate your success in the same way as seeking out those where you want to go.
3. They Have No Way of Assessing The Value of The Connection
Let's face it, many of us are drowning in LinkedIn connection requests. We are all inundated with opportunities to connect with people through social media, professional organizations and alumni groups.
The problem is we often fail to connect the dots and figure out which of all these options are productive and congruent with our goals. I'm all for keeping an open mind and being kind and inquisitive with everyone you meet. But our time is so limited we are required to triage what value and assistance each party can provide each other in the future.
4. They Have No System To Leverage Their Network
Have you ever come back from a conference with a huge stack of business cards only to stick them in your drawer and do nothing with them? Not having a plan to use the information you received is a huge barrier to networking.
Without a system to follow up and develop your relationships, they end up fading over time and lose their value. Even if an opportunity were to come up that would be of mutual interest, you wouldn't be able to seize it because the connection had gone cold.
Most people think networking is just meeting one person after another. They build a huge pool of contacts but years later they really have nothing to show for it.
5. They Fail To Create Valuable Long-Term Relationships
People are quick to ask for favors, jobs, and introductions. The problem is you can not ask “A” players for favors before they like, know and trust you. The only way that is going to happen is through regular contact where you are continually expressing interest and adding value to them. This value can come in many ways so you need to get creative.
If your networking efforts haven't been paying off, then you're likely making some of these mistakes in your interactions. The first step is to recognize the areas you need to improve, then start to make the necessary changes.
For now, start thinking about your existing network and how strategic is it? How diverse is it? When is the last time you reached out to someone you respect in your industry? The more proactive you can be with your relationship building, the more natural this will feel.
A version of this article was originally published in Occupational Olivia.