With an increasing number of digital tools at our fingertips meant to create “connections,” it’s becoming increasingly confusing to navigate how to build a professional network.
Is your network the number of connections you have on LinkedIn?
The number of professional mentorship groups you belong to?
Or is it, simply, the people you have worked with in your current and past jobs?
Consider Dunbar’s number, which states that the average human being can comfortably maintain stable relationships with 150 people. Compare that to the average number of LinkedIn connections a person has: 930! As the term "network" gets muddled in the digital realm, focusing on a few key tactics will help you to build a fruitful, established, professional network IRL.
No, I don’t mean in your workout class. Before beginning to think about how to grow your professional network, think about what you want your professional network to be for you. Do you want to learn more about an industry you’re not currently involved in? Or how to advance your career in your current role? Are you looking to learn how to balance work and life? Answering these questions will help you determine what type of people you need more of in your professional life.
It's easy to believe that the more meetings you have, the more productive you are. A more focused approach to building a professional network is far more effective than casting a wide net. When you’re trying to grow your network, build a list of job titles you think align with your career path. Then, reach out to those around you who have those titles, set up a coffee, and start learn what they do, and how they got to where they are today.
There is such a thing as having too many professional connections. Your ability to dedicate energy and focus to your relationships decreases with the volume of people you’re trying to connect with. Instead of reaching out to every person in a senior leadership role at your company, focus on building deeper relationships with one or two people you naturally connect with, and whose role you admire. Try to have 10 coffees with two people instead of two coffees with 10 people. And don’t force a relationship with someone you don’t naturally connect with, no matter what the person's title is.
Keep in mind that your professional network may grow, shrink, or just generally change as you continue on your career path. Some connections you may form could turn into friendships, while others may become obsolete the further you move along in your path. Maintaining connections is important, but also remember that the purpose of a professional network is to help your career flourish – not to be the most popular young professional in your city.
Building your network isn’t just about getting advice and support – it’s about giving those things, too. Often times, when we connect with someone we admire, we forget that the other person wants to be fulfilled by the relationship as well. As in any type of relationship, consider what you’re bringing to the table.
This post is by Farah Sheikh and originally appeared on Shine.