You’ve all heard it. You might have even said it, “I don’t have time to network,” “Ugh, networking is not in my comfort zone,” “I am not good with small talk,” “I don’t have anything to say that anyone would care to hear.”
Yes, that may all be true – until the day you need it. Networking is particularly challenging for IT people. Let’s face it, many of us are introverts, and many of our non-IT friends don’t always understand what we do for a living. Regardless of your discomfort with networking, it is highly likely that someday you will need or want to find a new job.
I am certain you are aware that networking is one potential path to finding a new job. However, did you know it might be the best way to get the job done? (The job of finding a new job, that is.) Some estimate that upwards of 85 percent of open positions are filled through networking. If you’re looking for work, it might be better to put your time into building your professional network rather than poring over all of the online listings.
Is it possible that networking might be the best way to find a new job? I believe so.
Let me offer you an approach that may resonate, and that is to take a project–based approach to the network.
Traditional networking advice suggests that you look at your current network and think about how to nurture your relationships. The problem is that this is a purely relationship based approach and looks at who you know and have known. It is based on your strategic vision for where you want to go in your career.
A more powerful way to think about your network is to start with a vision of where you want to be in your career in three to five years, and then work backward from there. Sound familiar? It should. It is how we build a strategic plan.
To make this more concrete, follow these steps:
- Take a moment to envision your best possible career in five years. Where do you want to be, what do you want to be known for?
- Who will the people be that you know, and who will know if you achieve your vision? Don’t limit yourself; get creative! Think about leaders in the IT field locally and globally who you admire. Who do you want to have coffee with?
- Put yourself into that future space and work backward to write the story about how you came to know these people. Which associations did you join? What conferences did you attend? What assignments did you complete? What leaders did you follow? Who did you look to for introductions? How did you develop new skills and abilities?
- Where do you need to be to interact with the people in your story? What do you have to do now to show up differently to attract the types of people you need to make the story come true?
- What are the key steps you can take right now to start building your ideal network and moving powerfully into the future? What would it mean to you to take these steps? How important is your vision for you? What are the barriers and who can you look to for guidance in knocking them down?
This approach is a new way of looking at networking. Instead of starting where you are, you start from the future and work backward.
This “from the future” networking can be scary for many because it may mean that you have to reinvent yourself and show up differently than you have been.
It has been said that we are who we hang out with. That is true, and the same is true for our network of professional relationships. If you want to be associated with top-tier professionals, you must be one yourself, and you can become one by choosing to hang out with these types of people and choosing to model yourself after them.
The strategic network approach outlined here forces you to think about how you show up now as a professional and as a leader. Next week, I will expand on networking techniques that will help you in your quest to achieve your strategic career goals. You can do it. I know you can.