Does your current network support your future career ambitions?
This is a question I asked myself back in 2001. After practicing law for over a decade, I sought to make a career transition — and not a particularly dramatic one at that. While achieving partner status in a firm had lost its luster for me, working in a law firm had not. My career aspiration was quite simply to move from my senior associate office into a cubicle on the management side of the law firm. There was however, a major hitch to advancing my transition plan: I didn’t have the network to make it happen. The network I had back in 2001 was perfectly situated to deliver up another legal role at a firm or corporate legal department but was scarce as to other opportunities.
I learned a valuable lesson from this point in my career: you need more than one type of network to achieve your career dreams.
Let me explain.
My network in 2001 was a narrow, deep, expert network filled with lawyers, investment bankers and other professionals in the structured finance field. It was a tight, close community: transaction after transaction, I frequently saw the same people, enabling me to anticipate the flow of the deal (and the challenges I would face). I knew who had my back, who was responsive to due diligence requests as well as their work habits. The network worked well, really well in fact, when you had one thing to do — close a deal in three weeks time.
Narrow, deep networks of like-minded peers enable you to accomplish tasks quickly. You know who you can rely on — these are the people who have got your back and keep you top of mind because you are interacting with them frequently. This type of network is where we find mentors. I know I did: a partner I worked with frequently was the person I turned to first to bounce ideas off of when I decided I needed to try something new.
The network I was lacking, and desperately needed to build, was a broad or wide network. Opportunities come from the power of looser, more diverse connections. This type of network is characterized by diversity — of industry, sector, geography, experience, gender, perspective, job titles and so on. The people in this network aren’t the type you’d ask to critique the presentation you need to make to your boss, having a broad network puts you in the epicenter of information flows. And that information may enhance your presentation — or in my case, help me land an entirely different job.
Take a look at your own network. Do you only have a closely held community? Watch out! The lack of weaker connections could hold you back from new experiences or projects in the future. On the flip side, if your network is only made up of acquaintances, you’ll miss out on valuable mentorship and teambuilding opportunities.
If you’ve discovered (like I did) that your network is lopsided, here are three suggestions to right size the situation:
Sign up to volunteer. Working on a project alongside people you’ve recently met, will enable you to get to know them better. If you need to expand your network, sign up for a volunteer opportunity with a community organization or cause you really care about.
Leverage social media. Let’s be really hones, relationships do ebb and flow. Think about how close you were to a colleage roommate or co-worker at your first job. With Facebook and LinkedIn you won’t lose touch — as you never know when a former BFF or summer intern will re-emerge as a powerful connection.
Stay active in alumni networks. Whether it’s your college or former employer, alumni networks highlight the power of loose ties. There is a common bond of shared experience, making outreach to distant connections immediately more accessible.