Network Your Way to Career Success

There is an African proverb that says: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — Vanessa Van Edwards, Captivate
Ihave written a lot recently about figuring what’s next in your career. A lot of it hinges on having candid discussions with other people who can offer you advice and guidance. Having discussions with people you already know as friends and coworkers is easy. But many times, the most valuable career advice comes from people we don’t know well like potential mentors, people already thriving in your industry, and people who can help you get into a new role.
It may be obvious that you need to connect with these people, but actually doing so can be pretty intimidating. That’s where great networking skills come into play. There’s an art to meeting and having conversations with people you don’t know, and today we’re going to cover some of the basics you’ll need to become a master networker.
If you’re not convinced that networking is important, let me quickly share how it’s impacted my personal career:
When I first got out of the Navy I was looking for jobs in Baltimore (where my wife was attending law school) to use my engineering background. I couldn’t find any engineering jobs that sounded interesting to me so I broadened my search. I ended up connecting through LinkedIn with a guy I knew briefly in the Navy. He referred me to the company I work for now, which has nothing to do with engineering. So the first job I got was through my network but it didn’t end there.
After a year and a half at my company, I started looking for more responsibility and something that would help me get promoted. A mentor of mine recommended me for a great role, and I got the job and the promotion the following year. So my second role (and subsequent promotion) was obtained through my network.
Going further… I wanted to transfer to my company’s headquarters in NYC because there was more growth potential there. I started having conversations with various people but nothing was really working out. Then, someone I’d done work for and impressed was building a new team and recommended that I interview. I got the job and made my way to NYC. So my third role was also thanks to my network.
I could continue, but to keep things short, my next two job moves both came through my network as well. Five job moves all came through my network.

Relationships with people are what end up moving you forward in your career more than a good resume or interview prep. Start building a network by looking for people who have some sort of connection to the company, industry, or position you’re interested in, and who also share something in common with you- even if it’s something small. Next, you need to make initial contact, and start building the relationship. Read my post below on finding a mentor to see exactly how to do this. Building your network and finding a mentor use the same basic steps, so this article should be useful for getting started.

Finetune Your Behavior to Make Better Connections

Here are some specific and practical things you can do to make conversations go more smoothly and have better outcomes:
  • When speaking in person, keep your hands visible and relaxed. This helps build trust.
  • Make eye contact. This releases oxytocin which is nicknamed the love/trust hormone. Aim to do this about ¾ of the time. Too much can be intimidating.
  • Stand with confidence. Keep your shoulders back and down, aim your chin in front and slightly up, keep space between your arms and torso.
  • Have unique stories and talking points ready. These go-to’s help keep the conversation pleasurable and memorable. This will help release dopamine, which causes the person you’re speaking with to assign the conversation more significance. Here are some of my favorite ice breaker questions:
What is the highlight of your day?
What personal passion project are you working on?
Is anything exciting coming up in your life?
What’s your story?
How’s it going?
  • Use people’s names in conversations and emails. This increases brain activity and helps make you more memorable.
  • Be a good listener. Listen to understand, rather than thinking about the next thing you’re going to say. Listen out for the interesting “nuggets” in the conversation and respond to them.
  • Focus on commonalities, not differences. If you can’t find any, then ask questions on something they are involved with that stokes your curiosity. You can even go so far to see if they’ll teach you about it.
  • Accept help or kind offers. People love to be needed and to give help, so accept the offer when given. If they offer you a drink or a glass of water, always accept. If they give you a compliment, accept it, and say thanks. Don’t be that person who tries to argue with someone when they’re trying to be nice.
  • Make it clear that you are happy to be there. People enjoy speaking to people who enjoy speaking with them. Use phrases that show know you are happy to have met:
I’m so happy you called
I’m so glad you emailed
Be polite, say thank you, and tell them you appreciate their time
  • Be curious. It’s the best way to show someone you care. I’m a big fan of the phrase, “I’m curious to hear more about…” It’s a great way to keep the person talking. People love talking about themselves.

A strong network will pay dividends throughout your whole career

Building and maintaining a network is hard work and takes time. But if you keep at it, it will pay dividends as your network continues to grow. Keep in mind that your network is something you have to give to as well as take from. Sometimes you will be looking for help from your network, and sometimes you will be giving help to someone else. Both are equally important in your career success! If you concentrate on meeting good people and helping them in any way you can, it will always be worth it!
To your networking!