After my first years as a lawyer, I finally understood that the way most people find new clients or jobs is by networking.
But I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of building my network until I was able to visualize it as a web of interconnected and authentic human relationships.
Now I love my network. It feels to me like a living, comforting presence, always there when I am ready to tackle a challenge.
My network has helped me shift careers, grow a business, learn new skills, help others, and meet wonderful new friends.
And I see how many professionals get better at expanding and nurturing their relationships once they develop a mental image of how their network is organized.
If you are ready to strengthen your network, pause to imagine how it will look as it grows. A good way to visualize your network is as a web of human connections, spreading out from you in a series of five concentric circles:
It’s hard to overestimate the value of the full range of your relationships.
In all five of your Circles you can find people who will give you advice when you need it, and join the party when there’s something to celebrate. They are a source of career intelligence and many will reach out to help, even though they don’t yet know you well.
Savvy networkers regularly think about other people. They make forging connections a steady, gradual process, with little steps built into the rhythm of their normal lives.
A technique that can be effective in all your Circles is to methodically look for little ways to be helpful.
The essence of networking is exchanging assistance and support with other people. Regardless of which Circle you’re addressing, stay alert to small, easy opportunities to add value. Start today to offer help in ways like these:
Become known as a "connector" by matching needs and resources and making introductions.
Perhaps you meet someone moving to a new city and you have a friend in that town who needs volunteers for his nonprofit. By making an email intro, you can help two people at once.
If somebody you know is giving a speech or planning an event they regard as important, work hard to be there. They may always remember that you made the effort.
If an acquaintance does something well, let them know you noticed and offer congratulations. Don’t be afraid to show your respect and affection, and be willing to share in the excitement.
If you see that somebody has hit hard times, don’t wait for them to call you. Assume that they would be around if you were in need, and reach out.
There is no better way to get to know people than to work with them. So, to break into a group, look for a chance to help with their project.
This might mean offering to join a committee at work, or looking around for nonprofit groups that make a contribution in your neighborhood.
Our networks are essential sources of friendship, information, and support. Viewing them as belonging in circles helps you understand the value that each circle brings. Nurturing your network enables you to strengthen ties, allowing you to both benefit from and contribute to the success of the members of all of your network's circles.
Beverly E. Jones is a Job-Hunt Networking Contributor. Bev is an executive coach, and a former lawyer and corporate executive. In addition, she is an active writer and speaker, and the author of “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO.” Her career podcast, “Jazzed About Work,” appears on NPR.org. Visit her website, Clearways Consulting, and Find Bev on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.