I really believe there are different ways to have a happy and even spectacular career, but there really is no substitute for having a strong network if you want to have a healthy career. In light of our upcoming event, we thought it would be fun to examine the different types of networkers that exist out there in the concrete jungle and to acknowledge there are an upside and a downside to most of them.
Big + Broad:
You are a connector. You know a lot of people and are known to a lot of people. You’re always looking to make a connection, not just for yourself, but to see who else within your network, you can introduce to someone who could be valuable to them. This is as beneficial to you as it is to everyone else in your network.
If you don’t know me personally (which is kind of surprising, feel free to LinkedIn me), this is the kind of networker I am. Years ago while I was working on a project I interviewed a man, let’s call him Tom, who worked with my father early in his career. Tom was a friendly sort and made me promise to say hello to my dad. And when I did, my dad talked about how friendly Tom was and how everyone liked him. He then went on to say, somewhat less charitably, that Tom wasn’t the most talented person on the team when they worked together but he “knew every single person in Chicago” and as a result, when one job was no longer working out for him, he was always able to immediately find another job right away, or as my dad put it, “he never went hungry.”
I’m not sure if this is what inspired my networking style, but I can say that as a result of a broad network, I’ve also “never gone hungry,” and my business and friendships have grown in ways I couldn’t have predicted – probably the best thing about my list of work friends. The downside is that I can get stretched in a lot of different directions trying to help people out who think I might be able to lend a hand, so this networking style isn’t for everyone, but it definitely suits me.
Narrow + Focused:
You know enough of the people you should know, the people in your company, profession, industry, and neighborhood. You attend industry events selectively (the valuable ones), and enough company happy hours and the like to make sure you are well connected and well-known within the circles that are important to you.
The upside of this networking style is that it is not too labor intensive. At each step, people who use this approach are evaluating whether the return on investment is worth it, and this way they avoid overextending themselves. The downside to this style is that it is easy to get rutted and only network with people you already know and who already know you, and so the flow of new ideas and contacts that comes from your network– can get stale and not be of any real help to you.
Strategic + Proactive:
You figure out who you need to know and how to reach them. You are willing to use the connections you have to get a meeting with those it is valuable for you to meet. This may sound similar to narrow and focused but the difference is in the details. You are the type of networker who wants specific connections, meaning you have thought through who you need to get connected to, you build a plan, and you are more persistent.
This type of networking can also be employed as a technique. So you may fall into a different category but realize that you want to expand, and this is how many people do it.
The upside of this style is that you use your energies in a way that you believe will have a good return. The downside of this one is that you have to make sure you find a way to make the relationships you develop valuable for others, otherwise you’ll just be seen as someone who uses others and their network for your own gain, but don’t really care about anyone else.
Weak + Disconnected:
As you guessed, this isn’t the best category to fall into. You don’t have much of a network other than the people you went to school with or directly worked with, and even then you’ve lost touch with most of them.
There are a lot of reasons people don’t build strong relationships. Some view work as separate from their “real life” and try to minimize their investment in something that they see as only work-related. Others feel like they shouldn’t have to network in order to be successful, that their skills and abilities should be enough. Really, a lot of people feel they are just a little above having to network.
But the weak + disconnected networker only contacts others when they need something, or worse yet, feels like they don’t have the help they need when they actually do.
Which one of the four types sums you up best right now? Regardless of what you might want next out of your career– a promotion, a company change, a total overhaul, etc.– aim to adopt one of the first three types of networking (or a hybrid of the first three), and steer widely clear of the fourth type. A healthy career is a connected career, and the good news is that it’s never too late to start to build a network that works.