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Your Professional Network – Make those Deposits!

When you hear the word “network” what comes to mind? Do you think of your close personal friends on Facebook? Is it your LinkedIn connections? Is it all the former co-workers you know? The answer is that it is all those things and more. More importantly, and here is the thing that professionals need to come to grips with very quickly, your professional network is one of the most valuable work related and job search tools that you have at your disposal. Additionally, your network of connections can also be very powerful when you need advice on something, when you are looking for a 2nd opinion on a work matter or even when you are looking for some quick hit resources, your network is a great place to reach out.

Piggy Bank DepositHere is the thing – in order for your network to be effective, you have to treat it like a bank account. You need to make regular deposits/investments into the account. You need to gradually build it up over time through these deposits, while earning interest (goodwill) month over month and year over year.  When the time comes, you will have built up enough of a “savings” account to make a withdrawal from your network when you need to.

Obviously the above reference to a “savings account” and “deposits” is/are a metaphor; however, that is the mindset that you need to have when building your network. Think about it, if you opened a bank account several years ago, and hadn’t deposited anything into it since you opened it, why would you expect there to be any money in there when you go to make a withdrawal? You wouldn’t, because you didn’t put anything into it! The same goes for your network – if you haven’t put anything in to your network, you can’t expect to get anything out of it.

As a professional, you need to be making regular “deposits” into your network. This can take the form of things like:

  • Sharing articles, advice and helpful pieces of information on LinkedIn with your network
  • Participating in group discussions on LinkedIn
  • Offering to help members of your network with anything from their own job search to assistance with something that is impacting their job success
  • Meeting for coffee with former colleagues to catch up and find out what THEY are doing
  • When asked for help from your network, respond in kind without expecting or asking for anything in return
  • Picking up the phone to (re) connect and touch base with individuals in your network
  • Providing work references for them (where practicable and appropriate)
  • Commenting on their blog posts/network updates

Those are but a small sample of how to make deposits, but they should give you an idea of what it means to invest in your network. If you make these small investments over time, you will build up a bank of goodwill with your network. What I can’t stress enough though is that you have to do all these things without expecting anything in return at that time. I have had a great deal of success with my own network with this approach. I am more than happy to assist whenever/wherever I can without reciprocity. The beauty of this is that when I need something from my network they are always willing and able to help. It is a nice symbiotic relationship that benefits all parties without the direct intent of having some sort of quid pro quo relationship.

Speaking (writing) from experience, where this all breaks down for me personally is that, unfortunately, there are people in my network that don’t buy into this approach and here is where I am sharing the lessons learned and advice for you, my readers. Essentially there are a handle of folks that I simply don’t hear from in any capacity month over month, year over year. (These are also the same people that when you reach out to them, you never hear back, they can’t help, etc.) Then, all of a sudden, I hear from them out of the blue. Guess what – they want/need something – advice, a job, etc. I really struggle with this as I have an internal war going on as to how quickly and/or willing I am to go out of my way to help? I usually do what I can, but it isn’t at the same level of commitment say for those in my network with whom we have all made “deposits” with each other and have been communicating/investing with over the same time period. So, you get my point about “investing” in your network.

The beauty of it all is that I have folks that I do hear from on a fairly regular basis – either dropping me a line to say hi or to share something with me that they found on a blog or at a conference, etc. and in turn I have done/and do the same with them. When these folks reach out for something, I am lightening quick to lend a hand because they have made many “deposits” and did so without expecting anything in return at that time. In discussions with peers/colleagues it would appear as though many of us have this same issue of only hearing from some people when they want something.

So, the moral of the story is this, you have to invest in your network. Make regular deposits and when the time comes, you will have built up a bank of goodwill to withdraw from. Your network is not something to be “used” whenever convenient for you. It is very off putting to not hear from people in your network for years and then all of a sudden they reach out to when they need a job or a favour. The message that sends to your network is that they are important enough to you when you are employed (because you don’t need anything). Then, when you are job searching, the people in your network are suddenly important to you!? Don’t think for a minute your network doesn’t know what is going on here! Spend the time up front, invest and then reap the benefits of a properly cultivated network. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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