How can I use my network?
This is a common question for us to hear, especially from job seekers. It’s a logical one, of course, especially if you’ve spent years being involved in professional associations, getting to know colleagues in your industry, and accumulating all sorts of acquaintances. Especially when you’re feeling urgent (“I NEED a job!”), it’s a normal instinct to ask, “How can I use my network?”
In our experience, however, your network may not be primed to be of assistance to you unless you have already consistently asked this question: “How can my network use me?”
How can you be of service to your network? We’ve learned over many years that there are some basic, evergreen ways to reach out and nurture your network. At the risk of sounding “preachy,” here are some basic principles. I actually keep visual reminders of these nearby as guideposts:
- Be courteous. Good manners go a long, long way. Regardless of what channel of communication you use (email, voicemail, postal, text), you can acknowledge those who have accomplished something or achieved a milestone. If you saw someone make a good presentation, compliment them. There are new jobs to be cheered, anniversaries to be celebrated, and simple contributions to be appreciated.
- Be curious. Several times a week, schedule a conversation with someone (an acquaintance, a colleague, a former boss) purely for the purpose of finding out what’s going on with them. You might want to know what their job is like, or what their challenges are, or what they’re reading, or what they might to recommend to others. Genuine interest in others, expressed through one-to-one conversation, is getting a little lost in the firehose of daily information, and it is the best way to create connection.
- Be generous. Add value. Actually ask people, “What are you working on that I might be able to help with?” So many of us are so connected and have access to so many channels of information that it’s a constant surprise how often we overlap. Or, failing that, offering a new angle or point of view on someone else’s challenge could be just what they need to have a breakthrough.
It sounds like a cheap platitude but I find that when you invest generously in your network, then it reaches back and becomes available to you when you’re ready for some input, ideas, connections, and yes, help.