In the latest jobs report, unemployment inched down to 3.5% even as job growth slowed. Only 187,000 new jobs were added in July, the first time this year the number of jobs added in a month was less than 200,000. It is also far below the monthly average for new jobs added (310,000+) in the first half of the year. With more rate hikes predicted, the job market could shift further in favor of employers.
This shift serves as a timely reminder of the need to continually build and maintain a robust professional network no matter the prevailing economic conditions.
For those at or near the C-suite, it is easy to dismiss networking as something only needed earlier in your career. But the truth of the matter is that a robust network serves every professional, even those who have ascended to the highest ranks of an organization. Doing so gives you more options should you experience a change in job status due to a weakening economy, as well as when you intentionally seek a change during more bullish times.
Tips for Recommitting to Your Professional Network
Experienced executives, as well as high potential employees aspiring to be one, routinely hone their hard and soft skills and stay up-to-date on the latest trends affecting their industry and profession. As a veteran executive recruiter, I can attest to how these efforts increase individual marketability, especially for new job opportunities at the senior level.
Many current and prospective executives—especially when happily employed—tend to pay less attention to their professional network than they should, despite its undeniable usefulness in learning about new opportunities, being referred for new or soon-to-be open jobs, and receiving future job offers. Whether or not your industry is downsizing over recessionary concerns, now is an ideal time to recommit to your network using these tried-and-true tips.
Evaluate Your Current Network
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building a great network, but there are some key characteristics that strong networks tend to share. Building a strong network means cultivating a diverse range of personal connections, extending beyond just those who you connect with on social media. These connections generally fall into the following categories:
- Career champions: These are individuals who truly understand you and your achievements. They are your solid supporters, acknowledging your progress and pushing you forward.
- Growth guides: Having people who can assist you in your current role and offer guidance on career-specific skills is crucial. Growth guides act as mentors, helping you navigate your professional path.
- Inspirational figures: Those who inspire us play a key role in our networking, too. They motivate you to reach higher goals and bring out the best in you.
- Changemakers: Those who can help position you for your next step are essential. They may even be the catalyst to help you attain a spot in the C-suite or a board-level position.
Regularly assessing your network can help identify any gaps that need addressing. For instance, you may notice a lack of representation from people outside your current industry, employer, or functional area. Additionally, you might find that you’re missing viewpoints from individuals with diverse backgrounds or differing opinions. These perspectives are valuable as they contribute to a broader outlook, crucial for effective leadership.
Set Networking Goals
Once you identify any gaps in your network, you can decide what new connections need to be made. Take the same goal-oriented approach to this that you would when acquiring a new skill or executing on your job responsibilities. SMART goals tend to work best because they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
Say you’re an up-and-comer who knows that within the next year or two you’ll be tasked with implementing a new ERP system, and it’s something you’ve never done before. A network-minded executive will create SMART goals to help them prepare, which may look like adding one or two veteran contacts with ERP implementation experience over the next six months.
Schedule Time to Network
To ensure you reach your goals, dedicate time in your schedule for networking activities like calling or emailing new and long-time connections. Blocking out the same time each week for this helps make it a habit in your routine. Just be careful not to choose a day or time when other priorities are likely to take precedent.
For example, if Monday mornings are notoriously hectic, avoid that timeslot. On the other hand, if Friday mornings are typically quiet, you could allocate this time to networking, including scheduling in-person breakfasts or meetings over coffee with your local contacts.
Seek Opportunities to Connect
In addition to routine network outreach, make it a point to register and attend conferences and other activities where you can make new contacts. In-person events are ideal, especially if you arrive early and stay late to mingle and introduce yourself to more people.
If tight company travel budgets make attending out-of-town conferences a challenge right now, take advantage of as many local opportunities as possible. This could be joining area business roundtables, participating in local panel discussions, or attending relevant conferences in the near vicinity.
Network with a Buddy
Connecting with people comes more naturally for some than it does for others. If you are one who finds it to be a bit challenging or uncomfortable, especially when stepping into unfamiliar settings, there is a solution: team up with a coworker or a friend and go to events together. Beyond the comfort of having a ‘buddy’ around, this tag-team approach tends to boost not only your confidence but also your chances of forging new connections. Why? Because when you’re together, you both feel more self-assured about approaching groups or individuals you don’t know.
A robust network is more than a list of contacts; it’s a community of people you can rely on and that likewise rely on you. Building that type of community takes continuous, proactive nurturing. That’s why it’s not enough to post the occasional celebrate emoji when a network contact shares a recent accomplishment on LinkedIn. If they’re local, consider taking them to lunch to celebrate the milestone.
For non-local contacts, think of creative ways to stay in touch. A CFO in my network does this by reading and summarizing a book every quarter for her network. I always look forward to her quarterly email because it’s unique, it’s genuine, it’s interesting, and it’s from her. Consistency, in this regard, is key.
Practice Vulnerability, Intentionality, and Gratitude
When you need to ask a favor of someone in your network, such as for an introduction or referral, don’t be afraid of rejection. No’s are rarely a reflection on you and more likely about the required time commitment. You can decrease the chance of rejection by making it easier for a contact to fulfill your request, such as proactively drafting the introductory email you’re asking them to send.
Always be sure to thank your contacts when they do fulfill your requests. The bigger the ask, the bigger the thanks should be.
Executive Networking: You’re Never Too High Up to Enhance This Valuable Skill
Justifiably, you invest in every other aspect of your professional life to your career’s advantage. Similarly investing in your network has the power to take your career as an executive to even greater heights – whether that be to serve a larger organization or join the boardroom for the first time.
From my seat, a well-nurtured network is the ultimate source for highly relevant references, which can be especially important when you’re going out for your next dream job or executive role. Those who can speak in-depth about your skills, emotional intelligence, accomplishments, and character give hiring committees confidence that you’ll bring cultural alignment and true collaboration to their C-suite.