Sunday, July 5, 2009

What's in your network?

I once posed the following question on a LinkedIn discussion group: "what is the point of having a network of 1,000 people or so?" What ensued was a segregation of people into two groups of people that strongly believed in their answer.

On one side were the people that felt casting the widest net was the best option. Not only that, but one can always help others in need since you will undoubtedly have someone in your network that is able to assist.

On the other side were the people that felt having members of their network that knew them personally ensured that the network had value in its own right since your endorsement carried more weight. After all, they reasoned, everyone in the network has (theoretically) seen first hand what you can do so there is value in your word as a professional.

Regardless of your opinion one thing is true: staying on the radar of everyone in your network is crucial for continued success and career movement. This isn't fashion where "one day you're in and the next you're out." (Sorry Heidi.) It actually requires effort (or a lack thereof) to have people forget about you, but once they do it takes 10x the effort to get them to remember you again.

Consider the following: when I was younger, I had a good friend who was a technical writer at IBM. I stopped calling them for over a year, but one day I needed the contact information from another person I knew at IBM. So I called them up and asked for the information. I could almost see the distaste on that person's face as they told me they couldn't find what I needed. I never called them again because there was definitely an air of hostility - "how come I only hear from you when you need something?" - in that person's voice.

But stay on everyone's network, and the result looks like this: at one point in my career I was told that I was to be affected by a 45% reduction in force. Because I had stayed in close contact with my network, I was able to reach out to them and secure 8 interviews within the first 2 weeks.

What is "staying in close contact?" Is it every week? Month? Quarter? Year? And is it acceptable to email them or is phone required? Your mileage may vary, but the guideline I have always used is to reach out once every quarter via email to give them an update on my life and ask them how they are doing. And it seems to have worked for me in the past, so I'm not going to change what isn't broken.

Putting your network to work for you in a pinch can be a real lifesaver. Like an automobile, it needs regular maintenance and some general TLC. But there's no better way to get from point A to point B in your professional life than driving down the interstate of your career with the top down, the radio blaring, and your network in the seat beside you.

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