In our previous guide, Networking 101, we reviewed the multiple benefits and various forms of networking. Now, our networking guide will help you to review the first steps in building a network of your own that is designed to enrich your career and is built to last. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Outline your Networking Expectations and Goals
Every journey may begin with the first step, but on this particular journey you will want to know where exactly you plan to go. Take a moment to sincerely reflect on the expectations and goals you have for your future network, and do your best to answer the questions below:
- In what area of the business or industry to I want to make connections?
- What level of leadership do I feel most comfortable or interested in forming a mentorship with?
- What amount of importance do I place on making efforts to interact with my colleagues after working hours?
- What are the top three benefits I am seeking to gain from my network? (Industry knowledge, career opportunities, closer relationship with peers, etc)
- How much time and effort am I willing or able to put into building and maintaining my network?
Whether it is in a word document, on a notepad, or in your head, remember your answers to these questions as you follow the next steps. Allow these expectations and goals to focus your efforts. On to the next step of our networking guide!
Step 2: Identify (and Reach Out To) Potential Mentors
Your mentors are likely to be managers and executives in your organization or industry. Given their position relative to yours in the business, it may feel intimidating to make the first move and reach out. How do you establish a mentor/mentee relationship with a busy executive? My own experience has taught me that with a bit of patience, initiative, and tact, it is surprisingly easy to build a regular cadence of interaction with potential mentors in the upper echelon. Here are a few tips for identifying and reaching out to potential mentors:
- Look for leaders in your department or function, or in an area of the business that interests you – Mentorships are fantastic opportunities to learn!
- Keep things simple! A simple introductory conversation in their office (or introductory email for especially busy executives) that illustrates your background and expresses a sincere interest in learning about the company’s products, culture, or industry is a fantastic way to start, and you will be surprised at how honored and willing many leaders are to share in your professional growth
- Let the network develop naturally – Don’t feel pressured to “pop the question” and ask if this manager or executive will be your mentor, but instead allow the mentorship to grow over time through recurring meetings and interactions
- If a mentor/mentee relationship does not seem to be developing naturally, that is okay! Both you and the mentor want to ensure that they are benefiting from your time together
- Be respectful to your mentor’s time – Executives are notoriously busy, and showing both appreciation and respect for the time taken to meet over coffee or lunch is both polite and prudent
I have learned these tips through trial and error in my own career, and I cannot be thankful enough to the mentors in my life who have dedicated so much time and care to guide me in my early career, and I hope that all rising young professionals seize the same opportunity for themselves. Let’s move to the next step!
Step 3: Identify and Follow-Through on Opportunities to Network with Peers
Much less intimidating and structured is the process of finding opportunities to network with your peers. As detailed in our previous guide, these colleague relationships can take place anywhere from the cafeteria at lunch, trivia night after work, or even the company kickball game. Oftentimes, the true challenge in this form of networking is not the task of identifying these opportunities, but in taking these opportunities.
Company picnic on a Saturday? You have to work on the yard. Bowling league on Thursday night? You’re taking your significant other to a movie. Coffee run before the 9:00 meeting? You have to finish a big report by tomorrow morning. Unfortunately we are so good at creating the excuses that we tell others (and even ourselves) that it becomes difficult to be disciplined in choosing an opportunity to network with peers rather than doing what you really want to do.
You may not need to go to every luncheon or event, but you will not find your peer network growing without a serious effort to make it so. Let’s move to the next step in our networking guide below.
Step 4: Establish a Cadence for Your Mentorship(s)
In Step 2 we recognized the fact that managers and executives are extremely busy. As the mentee, how can you ensure that you are continuing the relationship while remaining respectful to your mentor’s packed schedule? Speaking from my own experience, the simplest answer I have found is this: Ask!
Being tactful and perceiving the general availability of your mentor is important, yes, but when in doubt you should always put the question to them. Not only does this show that you recognize and appreciate their limited time, but it also allows them to steer the cadence of your meetings. I have had mentors who wanted to get coffee once every two weeks for half an hour, and I have had executive mentors who asked me to set calendar notices once a quarter to meet in their office in a more structured setting. In all of these cases, this cadence was set after asking my mentor what they felt would work best for them.
Taking this step will help ensure that your relationship continues to grow and feel natural. On to the final step!
Step 5: Recognize Opportunities to Give Back
The fifth and final step in this guide is the importance of giving back to your network. This may be especially difficult in a mentor/mentee relationship, as from a professional perspective there is little you can do to give back in the form of career opportunities. However, there are at least three ways to ensure that you are giving back to the mentor who has given your own professional life so much knowledge and enrichment:
Giving Back to Mentors
- Keep your mentor up to date on the world of young professionals in your company or industry – Put the fruits of your peer networking to work and help your mentor keep a pulse on the ideas, projects, and outlooks of the next generation of employees
- Recognize the impact of your mentor even if they are not there (it is a small, small world) – Awards, exit presentations, and more are all opportunities to share with the organization that your mentor has been instrumental in your accomplishments
- Show a gesture of appreciation by sending a handwritten thank you note or a holiday card – In today’s digital age, do not underestimate the impact of these “old-fashioned” traditions
How can you give back to your other network relationships? What can you do for peers or colleagues? Here are a few ideas that I have personally tried with great success:
Giving Back to Peers
- Recognize colleagues for true contributions to the team – Most major companies have some form of internal awards for which employees can nominate other employees, and these seemingly small gestures can be a great way to show that you value working alongside them
- Coffee and donuts! It may make you feel like an intern but coffee and donuts and any other special treat can do wonders to change the attitude of a team, if only for the duration of a meeting or day (and let’s be honest, the coffee and donuts guy is always the hero)
- Become the first friend new team members make – As a new young professional yourself, you will remember the impact an employee who went out of their way to take you under their wing had on you, or how much you would have benefited from having someone to give you that early support
For a five step networking guide, there is an incredible amount of information and tips packed into this post that was hopefully not presented in an overwhelming fashion. Building your first network can feel intimidating, and one would be lying if they said that it did not require extensive attention and dedication both up front and in the long term.
However, in the fourteen months that I have been in this rotational program, I can state without hesitation that the network I have begun to build has already contributed greatly to my knowledge, confidence, and opportunities, and I hope that after reading this networking guide you will find the same good fortune as you develop the network of your own.
Have thoughts or questions on your own networking experiences to share? Please post in the comments below!