A robust professional network is an essential component of long-term success in business, especially for women. According to Boris Groysberg, professor at Harvard Business School, “Women face more institutional barriers at work than men do, and to make it, they have to rely more on their outside networks.”

With another round of layoffs looming for the financial sector, it is imperative that all executives develop strong and diverse networks to rely upon should they have to compete in today’s job market. But don’t wait until you’re on the chopping block to turn attention to the health of your networks. After all, a robust network isn’t just an asset for job seekers. Given the instrumental role networks play in everything from landing a new client to getting a promotion, improving the effectiveness of your network is crucial for career development on a day-to-day basis.

1. Analyze Your Network

In the Harvard Business Review article “How to Build Your Network,” Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap recommend diagnosing the state of your network by creating a worksheet in which you list:

  • A. Your Contacts
  • B. Who Introduced You to the Contact
  • C. To Whom You Introduced the Contact

Uzzi and Dunlap instruct:

“Starting with the left-hand column of the worksheet, fill in the names of the most important contacts in your network – people you rely on for the exchange of private information, specialized expertise, advice, and creative inspiration.”

In the middle column, list who has introduced you to these contacts. If you met the person yourself, write “me.”  And in the right-hand column, write down the people you’ve introduced to these contacts.

2. Pinpoint Your Connectors

Once this worksheet is complete, pay careful attention to who is listed in the middle column. These are your connectors, the people who play an integral role in expanding your network. In his seminal book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines connectors as, “a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances.”

If you are your own biggest connector, then there is a fundamental problem with the health of your network. Uzzi and Dunlap write:

“According to our studies, if you’ve introduced yourself to your key contacts more than 65% of the time, then your network may be too inbred.”

An inbred network, which is comprised of like-minded people who work within the same field, doesn’t have enough diversity to be effective. Ideally, your network should have key connectors that provided you access to a vast array of different groups which will broaden your horizons and unlock unknown opportunities.

3. Connect with the Connectors

Once you’ve identified your connectors, list how you first met them. Was it on a non-profit board? A running club? An industry function? Pay attention to the activities during and after business hours that put you in the path of these important people, and focus on meeting more people like them in the same arenas.

If your network is too inbred, remember that formal networking events will only get you so far. Instead, get out of your comfort zone by exploring new realms. Consider joining a women-in-business network, a softball team, a volunteer organization, or a non-profit board. Becoming part of a diverse group of people working towards a unified goal will be much more likely to yield access to key connectors than just swapping business cards at an industry function.

4. Move Beyond Self-Interest

In our hyper-connected age of social media, many people have thousands of contacts, friends, and followers via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Even though building up a strong brand through these platforms can be invaluable for maintaining relationships, it cannot replace the power of genuine human connection. Venture Capitalist Anthony Tjan believes that a network only has true value if it is characterized by “vulnerability, authenticity, generosity, and openness.” A strong network, Tjan writes,

“Is not something that can be premeditated. It is not a targeted list of must-have relationships, but rather it is a set of relationships built out of curiosity and friendship that somehow ends up encompassing people who turn out to be pivotal. Unintended benefits often manifest for those who embrace relationships with openness.”

Following your passion and curiosity, while also focusing on what you can do for others versus what they can do for you, will lead you to create a lasting network that is sure to benefit your career and your life.

Who are the important connectors in your life? How do you nurture those important relationships? How do you build more like them?

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