Selling Yourself: Strategically growing and strengthening your network
Networking is often seen as distasteful because many think it is all about putting yourself first to get ahead. However, I urge you to carefully consider your network and how you can strategically strengthen your connections to form beneficial two-way relationships. Regardless of where you are in your career, networking is an absolute must. So, let’s figure out how you can network efficiently and effectively.
Former Apple executive Heidi Roizen is widely known, amongst many other achievements, as being a strategic and successful networker. Harvard Business School wrote a case detailing her networking abilities, which I highly encourage you to read if you have the time. In it, she stressed that “consistency and performance were far more important than frequency of interactions in maintaining a network.”
Furthermore, Roizen noted three things that were critical to networking:
1. Having access to people, which is something you build over time;
2. Performance during and after each interaction, meaning you got back to the person and did what you could to help them out — you were responsive; and
3. Consistency, meaning that in each interaction with that person, you were consistent in your actions.
In an age where all newbies need references and most career switchers rely on a connection to make the change, a strong network is critical. Arguably most important, you need to find the delicate balance between under-utilizing your connections and abusing them.
Roizen pointed out that you need to carefully consider the favor you are going to ask and the demands on the other person’s time. “You have to make sure that your request is really important to you and that it has some opportunity to carry a payback with it — either in the request itself or in the promise of a future exchange,” she said.
In the article “How to build your network,” Northwestern Kellogg School of Management faculty members Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap noted three unique advantages of networks: Private information, access to diverse skills sets, and power.
They also pointed out several issues with only networking with a few, like-minded individuals. First, “too much similarity restricts your access to discrepant information, which is crucial to both creativity and problem solving.” Second, the proximity principle that people network most with those that are physically near them, such as colleagues, creates echo chambers where eventually everyone within the network has already been introduced and “the similarity of thought and skill reverberates.”
Their solution to these issues is to make a conscious effort to network according to the shared activities principle, where you meet others through activities that interest you, such as volunteering. “Shared activities bring together a cross-section of disparate individuals around a common point of interest, instead of connecting similar individuals with shared backgrounds,” they wrote.
Before altering your networking strategy, I encourage you to do a quick exercise to determine where you need to focus your efforts. Uzzi and Dunlap suggest writing a list of your most important contacts (I did it with 20). You can either limit it to professional contacts or think broadly across all domains — friends, academics, professionals, etc. In the next column, determine who introduced you to the contact. If you introduced yourself, put “me.” In the last column, determine to whom you have introduced the contact. If you haven’t introduced him/her to anybody, leave it blank.
Hopefully you will start to see some trends that will pop out. For example, I realized in my list that I introduced myself to my contacts 81% of the time. (This can be calculated by counting the number of times you wrote “me” in the second column and dividing it by the number of contacts in the first column.) Uzzi and Dunlap warn that your network is too inbred if this percentage is more than 65%!
Spend some time with this list thinking of its strengths and weaknesses. If you want, use it to map your network with arrows between connections. If the relationship is reciprocal, put two arrows. If it is more of a mentor/mentee relationship, put an arrow in the direction of who is benefiting most from the relationship. Hopefully this visualization will also help you determine how you can best improve and strengthen your network.
Next week we will start talking about pricing yourself and your services. There are numerous differing opinions on this topic so hopefully I can give you a variety of viewpoints in order to determine what works best for you!
Tags: advice, Brian Uzzi, Heidi Roizen, network map, networking, Shannon Dunlap