Networking has long been recognized as one of the most important activities influencing professional success. 85% of jobs are filled through networking. Yet networking is challenging. We’ve all been told that it’s not what we know, it’s who we know. But who should we know? Here are five things you need to know about creating a thriving network.
1. Look for weak ties
Research by Stanford Professor and sociologist Mark Granovetter has revealed that there is a strength associated with weak ties--those people who we don’t interact with on a daily basis. Granovetter argues that these ties are important for uniting different groups within a network. They are bridges.
It’s unlikely that your strong ties--those people who you habitually interact with--will lead you to new, exciting, and untapped opportunities. They likely have access to much of the same knowledge and groups of people as you do. Weak ties, however, are more likely to be connected to groups and people outside of your central network. By forging bonds with these weak ties, you’re able to gain access to new communities and new information. This helps broaden your perspective and afford you new opportunities.
It’s important to sustain your relationships with weak ties as their likely to lead you to your next big opportunity.
2. Embrace a long-term view
Networks aren’t created overnight. It’s not a race. In particular, it’s difficult to build up the trust required to establish strong relationships. Research has shown that it takes two years before customers trust a brand. It can easily take years to establish a high level of trust with a member of your network. But it’s well worth the effort. According to research by HuTrust, when customers trust a brand, 83% will recommend that brand to others. Think of yourself as a brand. When people in your network trust you, they are more likely to sing your praises and open new doors.
3. Set goals
It’s easy to deprioritize networking. One in four people doesn’t network at all! You owe it yourself to continuously develop your network. And in order to continually improve, you need to set goals. These goals should not be based on the number of new connections you establish. Simply adding a connection to your network won’t likely lead you to where you want to go.
Instead, goals should be based on high-quality networking activities. For example, to have two 30-minute coffee chats with weak ties in your network every week, or to attend two seminars each month that are not directly related to your job. These activity-based goals will help keep you on track and expand your network in the right ways.
Nearly half (41%) of people want to network more frequently but don’t have enough time. By setting goals, you’ll be able to keep yourself accountable for your career success.
4. Prioritize face to face
In today’s digital age, it’s easy to overlook the importance of face-to-face interactions. Yet face-to-face interactions move waters in terms of helping you engender high levels of rapport and trust. There’s a reason that for every dollar companies invest in travel, they earn $12.50 in value. The body language and gestures that are communicated via face-to-face communication cannot be replicated.
Whenever possible, prioritize in-person conversations and meetings. When you’re traveling, make the effort to meet your connections face-to-face. Affinity is a great tool to help you filter your network by location and determine who you should meet with in particular geographic areas.
The average company would lose 17% of its profits if it eliminated the business travel that enables face-to-face conversations. From a networking standpoint, your profits will be highest when you prioritize in-person communication.
5. Be a giver
In his book "Give and Take", Adam Grant outlines three distinct types of people: givers, takers, and matchers. Grant discovered that givers tend to be most successful. They embrace a long-term mentality and concentrate on how they can help others. By putting others' interests first, they garner high levels of trust and respect. In doing so, members of their networks are more motivated to share information and go out of their way to open new doors.
Be a giver in your network. Think about the ways in which you can leverage your skills and talents to assist others. Chances are, in doing so, the people in your network will go to bat for you and lead you to new opportunities.