The ultimate professional network to have is a group of professionals that support and sponsor your goals without you asking (of their own accord), because they know what you are trying to achieve and they want to ensure your success. They are working on your behalf – looking out for you. You are also working and looking out for them.
There are three essential questions to ask yourself to determine if you have such a network. Learn what they are.
I am often in many discussions with leaders and professionals about the importance of building a robust professional network – one that works for them, I also spend a great deal of time helping individuals understand that there is a huge difference between your network – the noun and you networking – the verb. One’s ability to do a lot networking does not mean that you have a network that is of any value to you. I explain that it simply means that you meet or know a lot of people. That can be fun within itself if you enjoy such interactions. But as we know it can add up to nothing which over time makes it not so fun. Often why most people proclaim that they don’t like networking is that they see no results. As we all know, the size of your network does not equate to its effectiveness. It simply means that you have met a lot and/or know a lot of people.
The power in a true network is one that is working for you on your behalf when you aren’t even aware that it is happening. This is in some form akin to having a group of professionals that serve as what I call your “professional network sponsors”. They are willing to speak on your behalf. They share with people within their network or outside of it, what you capable of doing or have done. They know and are clear about your goals and what you are trying to achieve. They help you with achieving your goal(s) without being asked. They have the ability to help position you for the next opportunity that you may not even be aware of or see coming around the corner. The highest form of acknowledgment is that they view you as a powerful connector within your own right. You are viewed as one that has the ability to actually help others which they have witnessed in action.
So how do you know if you have such a network? A network that is always looking out for you just as you are for looking out for them? That such activity is a natural part of how you and they do business? Ask yourself the following:
“Do I Really Know What My Current Network Capable of Helping Me Achieve?”
Sometimes this is the toughest step – doing inventory of your network, really determining the value of it and doing something about it. It takes deciding that you cannot treat everyone in your network as an equal. Even tougher is determining who those individuals are and what actions you need to take. There are some that are in your network that serve little to no value in the regard that they aren’t able to help you achieve your current goals. Your goals and the professionals in your network simply don’t match. Then there will be others that will provide great value. You will have to decide how much time and effort you want to spend on each type of relationship. The important part is recognizing the challenge and deciding to do something about it.
“Am I In the Right Room(s) with the Right Set of People”?
Whether we acknowledge it or not we tend to gravitate to individuals that are just like us. We join groups in which the individuals are of the same gender, that have similar backgrounds, sets of experiences or professions like us. This is often referred to as the self-similarity principal. This is not bad as there are times when this may be warranted and makes sense. The problem is not that you are with individuals that share something in common with you. The challenge is when no one in that room (that has a similar profile to you or set of experiences) can help you in achieving any of your goals. If you must be with individuals that you both share the similar characteristics or affiliations as an example, ensure that you are aware of how such associations can enable you in achieving once again, your goals.
“Do I Bring the Right Social Capital?
Most people will reply to this question by saying, “Yes, I can offer my network a lot.” I know lots of people that I can connect them with.” Well that answer may sound fine on the surface, but that’s really not good enough. Such a response is broad and nebulas at best. Being able to connect others with others is a superficial response and even action at times. Ensure that you REALLY are able to help the person in getting the right connection or better yet you serving as that resource yourself to help the person achieve their goal. Just be very clear about what you have to offer. If it is your connections then, what do your connections really do? Who are they? How would you describe them? What connections or information can they provide? What do they truly have to offer that is of value? Everyone has some type of offering. The key thing is if it is not meaningful – not just theirs but yours as well. Remember that you too want someone that has the ability to directly help you achieve your goals. Others are no different.
The questions above are not all inclusive. However, they provide a solid start. The goal once again is to have a network that understands your goals, what you are trying to achieve and wants to help you do such. You in return want to (and can) do exactly the same. But the key here is that all parties are so acknowledgeable about the other’s goals, they always top of mind. Isn’t that what professional networks are all about or at least should be?
This article originally appeared in The Black Career Women’s Network Blog.
Flickr Photo: Erik Eckel
I am Francine Parham. I speak publicly about topics in the area of professional and leadership development. I discuss the value of professional networks and networking as the foundation of your career success. I also speak about how you as a professional can successfully navigate through company cultures. I help individuals in the development of the critical skills they need in their careers to be successful in achieving their professional goals. Please connect with me at francineparham.com or hear me speak at the up and coming Black Career Women’s Network Annual Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio on August 8, 2015. If it is about your career success, then count me in!