Connections Are Everything: Is Your Professional Network Hurting or Helping You? / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Sometimes a bad network can be worse than no network at all. Learn how to maximize your professional network with these tips.

If you find yourself rolling your eyes every time you read one of those "networking is the best way to find a job" articles, the problem isn't the career advice, the problem is your network.

Not everyone's network is helpful when it comes to job hunting, but this is a problem you can fix, or at least, work on fixing.

Below we'll dive into evaluating your network, and how to make it work for you.

How to Know if Your Network Stinks

You'd think you'd already know this, but most people don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about it.

Your network might be filled with "good" people, but not people who are good for your career. For instance, your network might stink if any of the following are true:

Related Article: Not Just LinkedIn: How to Brand Yourself Online When Job Hunting

Everyone Is in a Completely Different Industry

All companies need accountants, but if you're a teacher, knowing a bunch of car salesmen probably isn't your best bet for finding a great job. Sure, your car salesman's neighbor's ex-wife's cousin might be a school superintendent, but the connection is rare.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't befriend, personally and professionally, someone in a different field, but you do need to seek out people who do what you do, or, at least, work in the industry you are targeting.

Everyone Is a Lower Level Than You Are

This happens when people spend too much time thinking hierarchically. I can't keep in touch with Jim; he was a director, and I was a junior analyst. Or, I could never send a LinkedIn invitation to my next door neighbor, he's a bigwig.

Meanwhile, your direct reports are flooding your email box. Honestly, if you've worked with anyone in any capacity, it's okay to include them as part of your network.

Sure, the CFO, who barely knows your name isn't likely to help you in your next job hunt, but the director of the neighboring department who you helped with year-end reports probably will.

Related Article: 7 Strategic Habits of Highly Successful Job Seekers

You Know More About Their Drinking Habits Than Their Professional Careers

This is a huge problem amongst new grads. Who do you know? Your college buddies. They are awesome. This is true. (Or false, I don't know what you did in college.) But, if you haven't kept up on a professional level, you don't know how you can help them or how thy can help you.

It's time to grow up.

So, if the above describes your network, what can you do? It's not like you can just magic up some high-quality professional contacts. Or can you? It's not easy, and it requires work on your part, but you can do it.

Talk to your friends and acquaintances about their professional lives

Take your conversations up a level or too. Instead of focusing on whatever sports event is going on, ask your buddies about their jobs.

When you have girls night, don't just discuss personal things, talk about your careers. With long term friends, this may seem like a weird switch, but it's part of a whole relationship.

Most jobs aren't industry specific, especially at the beginning of your career, so take the time to get to know what people do. And let people know what you do. Remember, it's just as important for you to use your network to help others.

Related Article: Beyond Job Search: LinkedIn as a Tool for Building Relationships

Meet some higher level people 

Gulp, no you can't show up in the executive dining room. If you take a look at my LinkedIn connections, you might notice some people on there who I haven't worked with, but are super high-level people.

How did I snag connections like that? Through three things, church, school activities, and my online connections. Yep, when you have a life outside your work circle, you meet people you wouldn't otherwise.

When you go to a PTA meeting, talk to everyone. When you go to church, sit next to someone new. This isn't selfish behavior, it's nice to get to know people, and it may help you.

Keep in contact

I just got a LinkedIn message from Ed, with whom I worked six years ago. Nice guy. He asked if I could help a friend of his out with the friend's blog. Sure, no problem, I said.

This wasn't our first contact in those six years. We've chatted about recipes before. When I see an especially interesting legal case, I send it to my former boss, who's an employment attorney. When I travel to a town where a former coworker lives, I'll try to schedule a lunch. I'll pay. 

Help everyone you can

You know who wants to help you? People who know you'll help them. When you only contact people in your network when you need something, don't be surprised when no one is interested in helping you.

When someone says, "Hey, are there any openings in [whatever] at your company?" take the time to look and respond. Even if the answer is no, it's worth it to respond.

Networking can be awesome with the right people and the right attitude. Don't miss out on opportunities just because your network isn't solid. Make it solid. 


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