Networking has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. It is a good part of what begins to separate the pretty successful from the very successful on the second leg of your career…and beyond.
Here are the mistakes women (men too, but mostly women) tend to make according to Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network (a 34,000-strong professional woman’s network, operating across industries and around the world) and Ellevate Asset Management:
- You are not. Meaning you are not networking. This is particularly true in your 30s. Life is busy, after all. Maybe you are with a spouse or partner, you have kids, the job is consuming, and you are trying to keep up with friends. I get it. Believe me, I get it. But their network is one of key reasons the guys are moving past you at work.
- You approach it half-heartedly because you sort of view networking as cheating. I honestly cannot tell you how many women have told me this, particularly younger women. They feel like they should be able to make it “on their own merits” rather than through whom they know. I wonder if this was the lesson we took away from all of the fairy tales fed to us as little girls. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White….do the right thing, keep quiet and your prince will come, often aided by a fairy godmother. Newsflash: there are few HR fairy godmothers. Please network.
- You are concentrating your networking in your own company. This is important, but too limiting. How else are you going to get a view of the competitive landscape, the emerging start-ups, the talented young people looking for jobs, the open advisory council positions if you do not have outside connections? If you only have an internal network, you have got a big problem.
- You are “making friends” rather than connections. Friends are great. We all need friends. But research shows that your next business opportunity is much more likely to come from a loose connection than a close connection. But only if you have a lot of loose connections. If you are trying to make everyone your friend, the opportunity cost of not building a more substantial network is pretty high. Along these lines, beware of over-sharing. Almost always a mistake.
- You are asking random people on LinkedIn to connect with you. Maybe a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend got a great job on LinkedIn through a random request to connect. But this is a pretty low-return undertaking. Please spend your time on something else.
- You are asking FROM your network before giving TO your network. I can always tell when this is coming. It is typically right after someone says “We women do not do enough for each other…” and then comes the request.....usually a pretty big one…..from someone I just met. You really have to plant the seeds and invest in your network before you can take from it.
Return off investment
“In my two very simple rules for networking, I try to meet one new person in my area of interest every month, or significantly deepen a relationship. And I do something nice for someone in my network every week,” said Krawcheck.
Once those investments have been made, there is a return on that investment (though not on every relationship and not all the time), but there can be a real lag.