Before embarking on our career journeys we’re taught about the importance of networking. How many times have you heard, “Your network is your net worth” or “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with”? While these quotes may hold some truths, the thought of networking can feel overwhelming. I used to ask myself:
- How do I start?
- Where do I start?
- What do I say?
- How do I build the best network to support the type of career I want?
- Where are these people I’m supposed to network with?
As an introvert the thought of networking and the importance of it to my career seemed nearly impossible. Small talk does not come easy to me and reverting to conversations on the weather just feels a bit unnatural. What I’ve come to realize is there is true power in professional relationships and that power comes in developing meaningful relationships with people you like and who like you. Beyond professional interactions that occur as a result, networking creates long-term value that you can rely on at multiple points throughout your career.
What’s the difference between networking and relationship capital?
I attended a professional event and met Allison whose career and overall professional presence I found very impressive. We chat at the event and I even follow-up with a thank you message via LinkedIn. That thank you message leads to an in-person meeting, resume review and career advice. While Allison and I have a good conversation, this is the first and last time we meet in-person. I gained a lot out of my networking with Allison, but the relationship was purely transactional.
Compare this to my relationship with Nathan, whom I met at the same event. Nathan and I spark up a casual conversation about the neighborhoods we’re from, where we went to school, and shared similar feedback on the event. Since our conversation at the event was casual and we enjoyed chatting with each other, the ease of conversation continued when we met in-person. At the time I was interested in both a change in industry and practice area. Nathan, who was a leader in the practice areas I was interested in, has since connected me with other industry experts, provided me with interview tips and connected me with a job opportunity that changed the trajectory of my career. Nathan’s willingness to recommend me for that position was based on the relationship capital we built over time.
3 tips to go from networking to building relationship capital
1. Don’t take anything personal. One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. As referenced by the title, the book provides four recommendations to live by. One of my favorites is the second agreement.
Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
This quote takes much of the fear out of building relationship capital. That fear comes from rejection. The fear of wanting to build a relationship with someone and it not working out. In fact, I’ve had plenty of failed attempts at building relationship capital, but I’ve never let that stop me from trying again. Don’t let one or several “no’s” stop you from getting to that “yes” that has the potential to enhance your career.
2. Find your tribe. Your tribe are those people who are naturally drawn to you and you to them. Make it a point to search for those people and get to know them personally. One of the ways I’ve done this at Gartner is through involvement with our employee resource groups (ERGs). Gartner’s ERGs bring associates together in a supportive environment to foster inclusion. Getting more involved with the ERGs has allowed me to join project teams with colleagues on different teams and grow relationships with people in offices across the world. Since participation in the ERGs is voluntary, anyone who makes a commitment to be involved shares a common interest in inclusion which is a great starting point to building new relationships.
3. Leverage your manager. Your manager can be your biggest advocate. You want a manager who believes in you and supports you. Having a supportive manager instills confidence in your work, trust in your capabilities, and an eagerness to contribute. My most supportive managers have been those who are positive, resilient, and are willing to give and receive constructive feedback. When considering a new job, you will likely interview with the hiring manager. Before going into that interview, think about the type of support you need to excel and make sure your potential new manager is a good fit. The manager and employee contract is a long-term one that, if done right, can make your life and career a lot easier.
As a byproduct of networking, building relationship capital requires going deep. It’s taking the time to invest in a relationship before you need to withdraw from it. Developing credibility and trust are key with those you want to influence. While it may take time, these are the relationships that will truly enhance your career and provide a circle of trusted advisors to lean out throughout your career journey.
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