Networking is one of the biggest career buzzwords out there. But it’s easy to focus on cultivating a massive network and forget to network strategically. In other words, quality is often more important than quantity.
If you find yourself making any networking mistakes, it might be time to come up with a new approach:
1. The oldest person in your network is 25
Who are the decision-makers in a typical organization? And who has the experience and industry know-how to guide you in your new career?
Likely seasoned professionals, not a company’s young employees.
I’m in no way discounting the significance of more junior employees (looks in mirror). But higher-level execs are often more knowledgeable, better networked and more influential than their junior counterparts. Their referrals will pull more weight with hiring managers – they might even be hiring managers – and they’ll be more experienced mentors. So get out there and get chummy with people who have been in the industry since before you were born.
2. The youngest person in your network is 65
If this is your problem, then nice job networking with experienced professionals. They’ve been there, done that and can probably offer you invaluable insights.
But now it’s time to diversify your network. Why? Because the best networks are those with mentors, peers and everyone in between.
You can’t go running to a seasoned pro every time you have a question, want support or need a helping hand. It just doesn’t work that way. Even those who have the time and are willing to help may not be the optimal go-to.
For instance, let’s say you’re having growing pains at your first job. Someone who has been working for 40 years may not empathize with you in the same way as someone who shares your experience level.
3. Your contacts are in a different location than you
I was Little Miss Overly Involved in college and had a pretty impressive network to show for it. Yet after graduating, I moved from Michigan to Los Angeles to start my career – which created a slight problem. My entire network was back home. (For those of you who need a quick refresher in geography, Michigan and Southern California are 2,000 miles apart.) In a city of 10 million people, I knew not one person.
The moral of the story? If you plan to move out of state after college – or even if you’re just entertaining the idea of moving — make contacts in the locations that interest you.
4. Your contacts are in a different industry than you
It always surprises me how many people make this mistake. They build a solid network, only to realize that none of their contacts are in the field they want to work in.
This can happen easily if you’re the odd man or woman out in your circles (for instance, if all of your friends are aspiring doctors, but you’re an aspiring lawyer). If you feel yourself falling into this trap, work hard to make connections in your target field, both through in-person and online networking.
5. Your contacts are all in the same industry as you
Some estimates predict the average person will change careers 5-7 times over a lifetime. You might end up hating what you do, you might fall in love with something else, or you might not be able to find work. Regardless of the reason, career changes happen, and your transition will be easier if you already know people.
Another advantage? Readily available sources for when you need help with something outside your area of expertise.
6. Your network is Facebook – and Facebook only
Congrats on having over 1,000 friends on Facebook – you’re quite the social butterfly! But how many of them can credibly vouch for you professionally?
If you’re like most new grads, your Facebook friends are more likely to have seen you in a toga than a suit. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the most helpful when looking for a job or picking references.
What all of this really comes down to is this: diversity and relevancy are the keys to a rich network.
How are you networking your way to success?