Forget fair! It IS about who you know.

It’s not what you know but who you know that makes the difference.
~Anonymous

You’ve probably heard the saying before.  During lunches or other work-related gatherings, I’ve heard many folks complaining that getting ahead is not about what you know, but more about who you know.  The truth is, they’re at least partially right.  Having skills is important to maintaining your position, but having a good network is critical for moving ahead–for a lot of reasons.

So, if you’re struggling to get ahead in your career it is likely because of who is (or isn’t) in your network.  In the past year, I’ve seen example after example of people moving up because of their relationships with others.  It could be as simple as recognition of their name in a stack of resumes, or an early tip that a position is going to be available.  On the other hand, it could be as big as being handed the opportunity by someone they know.   In just about every case, those without a reliable network are left complaining and feeling cheated.  Don’t be one of them.

The bottom line is, if all you are doing is sharpening your technical skills you are ignoring a huge part of your career development.  While you can’t ignore your skills, a winning strategy must include building your network.

A few words of warning are in order before you jump into action.  Building your network is not just having a large list of “friends”, “followers”, or contacts, and, it is not schmoozing.  It is about building a community around you.  To build this community and keep it healthy you need to create value for each of the individuals in your network.  In fact, if you focus on how you can continually add value to your network rather than how your contacts can give value to you, career advancement will likely “just happen.”

So where to start?  If going out and “networking” isn’t your style, here are some off-the-beaten-path ideas that have worked for me and others.

  1. Start a new hobby.  Hobby related meetings are a great place to meet people that have similar interests.   As a pilot and member of a flying club, I have met many people that have become very close friends.  Many of these people are also successful in business.  Flying is not the only hobby where this would be true.
  2. Join or get more involved at your place of worship.  Places of worship are great places to find others of similar faith and create strong, long-lasting relationships.
  3. Take a class.   When I was working on my Master’s degree, I met a lot of people who shared my interests and skills.  I also met others with differing backgrounds that worked inside my own organization.  I was able to develop strong relationships with several of them, and we have helped each other on numerous occasions.
  4. Go to a seminar.  Industry related seminars are great places to meet people that do the same work as you.  Further, since you are in the same industry, there is a good chance that you have skills and information that can be of value to many of the participants.
  5. Volunteer at your local school.  While chaperoning field trips, or helping with school activities for my daughter, I have been introduced to many interesting people.  Having my business card with me, and following up with information new acquaintances might find helpful has created some very satisfying relationships.
  6. Volunteer to organize a party (or other social event) at work.  Social activities are great places to learn more about co-workers and leaders within your organization.  These are great opportunities to build stronger relationships.  Further, many of these events cross organizational lines, giving you the opportunity to learn much more about the organization.
  7. Participate at events for local philanthropic organizations.  Some examples might include the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, a local soup kitchen, the Eagles, the Masons, etc.  Many successful people look for ways to give back.  I met some of my best friends while serving those less fortunate.  The new relationship and the ability to help others made my participation a double blessing.
  8. Email one of your favorite authors with a question about one of their books.  On several occasions, after finishing an excellent book, I have sent the authors emails expressing my thanks for their work, and asking questions.  While not everyone responds, on two occasions, the emails led to long-term relationships with the authors.  In both cases the author and I have been able to help each other in ways that I never would have imagined.
  9. Give a speech or presentation.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to give lots of presentations.  Whenever I met someone at the presentation, I tried to capture their contact information.  In many cases I have been able to follow-up with additional help.  But, things often don’t end there.  I cannot count the number of times relationships with these individuals has been helpful.
  10. Accept help or favors from others.  Often, one of the best gifts you can give another is the ability to be useful.  There have been many instances when a meaningful relationship of mine began when someone offered to help me.

No matter how you begin building your community, start it now.  The longer you wait, the longer it will be until you start seeing results.  Remember, the clock is ticking!

Image Credit: http://360bizblog.com/2011/171
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