Making Connections: Three Steps to Grow Your Career Through Personal and Professional Networks

By Kristen Harris

We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” It can seem pretty negative, as if some people have all the advantages due to family, circumstances or other advantages, while the rest of us are out of luck. But at the core, “who you know” means exactly what it says—who YOU know can be a tremendous asset during a job search and throughout your career.

Whether you consider yourself very social and outgoing or more the quiet and reserved type, you know people. You have friends, neighbors, people you grew up with, high school and college classmates, current and former co-workers, and members of organizations or activities you’re involved with. And every one of those people also knows people. It’s important, because it’s not only who YOU know, it’s also who THEY know.  The first step to leverage your networks to grow your career is this: Step 1-Sit down and make a list of everyone you know, how you’re connected and what they do. Create a spreadsheet to help you track your interactions with each person.

Since it’s clear we all know people, how do you connect with them and how can they help you? People generally want to see you succeed, but often they’re not sure what they can do. If you can succinctly tell them what you need and explain what they can do, as long as it easy for them and they don’t feel that you’re imposing, most people will say yes. Even if they’re not comfortable or don’t have the connection you need, they may refer you to someone else instead. Step 2-For each person on your list, think about how they may be able to help you, either with information or with another connection. Think about what they know, and who they know. People will be much more likely to respond to a request that is easy or comfortable for them.

Now you need to start reaching out to the people on your list. Use a method that is easy and convenient for them. You are asking for their help after all. Before you contact each person, have a clear idea of what you need and how this person may be able to help you. Explain what you’re looking to do, where you want to go, the type of job you’re looking for, or the sort of information you need. Be specific; while it may be perfectly clear to you, the person you’re speaking to isn’t privy to all the background and internal information you have. They may need help connecting the dots.  Step 3 – Contact each person on your list, starting with the ones that you think will be the best connections. Share your goals and interests, and clearly explain what you’re looking for and how they may be able to help. Be open to their suggestions and appreciative of their time.

If you are polite, prepared, accommodating to their availability and schedule, clear about what you are asking for, and try to keep your requests within the person’s ability and comfort zone, your success rate should be high. You may come away with a clearer direction, new perspective, new opportunities and ultimately, that new job you’ve been waiting for.

This article may be reprinted when the copyright and author bio are included. ©2011 Kristen Harris, Portfolio Creative, LLC.