A Better Way to Network for C-Suiters (And Everyone Else)

By Monica Foster, Managing Director

Networking is rarely easy, even for the most outgoing or successful among us, but it’s always worth the effort. Unfortunately, a lot of us fail to prioritize it until we are in transition, at which point it becomes a full-time job of catching up with old connections and seeking out new ones in order to find that next role.

For those of you at the height of your career, in particular C-Suite residents, networking can easily fall off your list of priorities because of the vast professional, personal, and community demands on your time. But by failing to create a meaningful network—even at this stage of your career—you are shortchanging yourself.

The Network’s Value

If you’re a CFO or other executive, you think strategically every day in your professional role, so why wouldn’t you do the same when it comes to enriching your personal development? Despite the high demands of your position, building and maintaining a meaningful network is a strategy that pays off regardless of what your current status is or becomes:

  • Happily employed: You have a group of respected individuals that you trust to bounce ideas off of and learn from in order to grow professionally and personally.
  • Employed but interested in a change: You’re more likely to hear about or be recommended for a dream role.
  • In transition: You’re never caught flat-footed with a need to completely rebuild or reengage your network while looking for your next role.

Evaluate Your Network

The right network is different for everyone but should include people who can help you succeed in your current role, coach you on career-relevant skills, inspire you to excel, and position or promote you to where you want to go next. At each stage of your career, your goals and the people who fit these descriptions change, so it’s important to routinely evaluate the strength of your network by asking these questions:

  • Is it personal? A list of social media contacts that yields no real connection doesn’t count. A true network consists of people with whom you have actually interacted, have good insight into your professional accomplishments, and can speak firsthand about who you are as a person.
  • Is it diverse? Connecting with people from different backgrounds who have unique perspectives and opinions that contrast with your own helps you to better understand the world, which is critical for today’s business leaders. Don’t hesitate to include any number of people who are younger and older than you, represent a variety of different professions, and live in other parts of the country or world. This type of network will spark the most interesting and constructive dialogue, helping you to grow in your own thought leadership.
  • Is it internal and external? Intracompany colleagues provide situational comradery and good sounding boards. They can also provide invaluable guidance on navigating tricky company dynamics or climbing this particular corporate ladder. External constituents and even competitors widen your perspective and offer an objective opinion from an unrelated or otherwise distinct environment.
  • Are there gaps? If you’re contemplating an industry change, your network needs representation from within it. Likewise, if you know you’re going to be tapped to lead a major initiative, you’ll want someone with that type of experience in your corner. And if you are pursuing an opportunity in an entirely new vertical, having network connections who can counsel you in that area will be beneficial to a successful transition.

Plan Your Networking

As with all things, regardless of how robust your network is, there are always ways to improve it:

  • Schedule time regularly: Invest in yourself by consistently blocking out time for networking activities.
  • Set goals: Decide how many and what kind of new connections you need and work toward that each week.
  • Seek connections: Attend in-person events and activities that give you the opportunity to make new contacts relevant to your network. Plan to arrive early and stay late to mingle and introduce yourself to more people.
  • Use the buddy system: If you find it difficult to walk into an environment where you might not know anyone, take a colleague or friend with you.
  • Don’t forget everyday interactions: It’s okay to ask people you see personally, from your neighbor to your dentist, to suggest a connection. Here’s an example: I’m looking to connect with a few CFOs who’ve led ERP implementations. Do you know anybody with that type of experience that you’d be willing to introduce me to?
  • Stay in touch: It’s not enough to gather a contact list. For your network to be a community you can rely on, connect with it frequently. Be as creative as you like, such as the CFO who stays in touch and relevant by reading and summarizing a book every quarter for her network.

Take Responsibility

No one benefits more from your network than you do, so it’s up to you to put in the work to cultivate it. And when it’s time to lean on your network, remember:

  • Be vulnerable: As hard as it is to ask for help, putting yourself out there allows you to grow. If someone declines your request, they’re likely rejecting the time commitment, not you.
  • Be intentional: Make your requests specific and do the work for the person whose help you need. For example, provide them the introductory email so all they have to do is send it for you.
  • Be thankful: At a minimum, send a thank-you note and a follow-up message to let the person know what happened. For big requests, consider sending an appropriate thank-you gift.

Last but not least, willingly lend your help and expertise when asked by your network. The value of offering your insights and perspectives inevitably pays itself back in dividends.

About Focus Search Partners + The Focus Forum

Focus Search Partners is a top 10 executive retained search and advisory services firm that is passionate about building teams that grow companies. We invite you to invest in yourself by building or expanding your network through our exclusive community for CFOs: The Focus Forum. Focus Search Partners created this engaged community of mid-market company CFOs to build peer-to-peer relationships and ensure each finance chief has access to cutting-edge content to achieve personal and professional success. Join us for another great year of progress!
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