How Do People Successfully Network?
A 44-year-old client in a lucrative career recently asked me, “How do people successfully
He had actually just shared with me that he’d completed an important and challenging
homework assignment – he’d gotten past his introvert approved discomfort and reached out to
a former boss with whom he’d had a strong relationship, but who was also someone he hadn’t
spoken to in 4 years. He’d felt uncomfortable about the assignment when we initially discussed
it, but we’d agreed that in order for him to land his next job – in a slightly different function
than he’d been doing for years — he would benefit from connecting with people who knew him
and who might know of positions he’d be interested in at his former company, or elsewhere.
“Hang on,” I said. “Before we discuss the whole networking thing, tell me how your
conversation went with your former boss.”
“It was great!” he laughed, clearly relieved. “He was so happy I’d reached out and we spent
about 30 minutes catching up about our families and lives. He’s actually changed roles which
was a surprise to me.” He was obviously happy and satisfied with the call.
“And did you tell him what you’re thinking about transitioning into now? Did you talk about
your work?” I asked. Over the Zoom screen I saw him lower his gaze and shrug his shoulders. He
looked at me, a little sheepish.
“I didn’t. I guess I could’ve but I didn’t want to push it. I just wanted to reconnect.”
“That’s great,” I assured him. “Well done! You got it. When you feel more comfortable with
your investigation about this next role you can follow up with him and ask for his advice!”
“Ok. Right. Yes. I can.” He looked resolute. “So how do successful people network?” he asked
again, but in a slightly different way than earlier. My client’s questions inspired me to write this
The Fear of Networking
I have this discussion about networking with each client I work with – no matter what age or life
stage they’re in –and I know that almost everyone feels squeamish about reaching out to
people they either do or don’t know for the purpose of gaining career clarity or growth. Most of
my clients share that they feel vulnerable, needy and insincere as soon as they even think about
reaching out for ‘help’ from other professionals. But as we see in my client’s story above, there
was nothing needy about the conversation between two former colleagues. They were catching
up, and each of them felt happy to have reconnected. The next conversation can, my client and
I agreed, be one in which he reaches out with news of his ideas for his next role; how he
became interested in changing functions and what research he’s done about making the
change. He can ask his former boss what his thoughts are about this path for him and if he has
any suggestions of anyone else he might talk to so he can learn more about his fit and skills. He
can also ask about what sort of opportunities exist at the company or elsewhere.
Go at Your Own Pace but Do It!
The scenario I’m describing here is one I’d call the planting seeds approach; it takes time to
plant seeds and to reap the crop, so to speak, but it’s really effective! Many of my clients have
done this with great success – both reaching out to those they knew to gain info and
connections, and also those they identified at organizations they were interested in…and ended
up landing a job they didn’t know was available.
Who Do You Know?
Plan to reach out to people who have worked for or with you, in the past, or to people who
work at the company you’d like to join. You can reach out to see if you can learn more about
what someone does in their role by writing a sincere and succinct email, or InMail via LinkedIn,
asking for a short call to learn more about their career path because you’re doing research into
this function which is aligned with your goals. Personally, I receive so many requests to connect
from people who never share with me why they want to connect. They don’t tell me an actual
story or reason why it would be helpful to connect. These requests are deleted immediately.
Don’t waste your time pressing the connect button if you aren’t going to send a personalized
and sincere note. If others can sense and recognize your sincerity and that you’ve done your
homework before reaching out, even just a bit, they will take your invitation more seriously. Of
course, if someone isn’t interested, or is too busy, you probably won’t hear back and that’s
okay. It’s not about you. Keep going.
Use LinkedIn and Other Online Groups.
Take time, also, to find groups on LinkedIn or elsewhere that include people who are working in the field or the function you have interest in. Keep reading the posts that come up and see if
there are others who look like they’d be a good resource for you. These LinkedIn groups are
ideal places to identify others who do what you’re interested in doing. You may even pose a
question to the group or add a useful post. A client found a Reddit group which provided a lot
of information about his desired career path. His research lead him to a discussion group, and
then an individual who offered to provide advice on this particular path.
Face Your Fears and Go Forward
I’m proud that my clients get to the other side of their fear of networking. It’s not their favorite
thing to do but they get the hang of it. Clients learn what a resource their network is and also
what a resource they are for others. And they also learn that fear, while uncomfortable, won’t
kill you. But staying in a job or career path you know you’ve outgrown can kill your spirit, and
If I can help you, or someone you know, to get moving in the direction you dream of, reach out
and let’s talk.