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How to Nurture Your Network and Empower Your Career

By Beverly Jones

How to Nurture Your Network and Empower Your CareerAfter 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.

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Visualize the 5 Circles of Your Network

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:

  •   Circle #1:  In this innermost ring are your best friends and closest family.

    Introverts particularly enjoy spending much of their time here. But even with besties, you can’t take things for granted. So nurturing this central group may require you to pick up your phone or initiate get-togethers.
  •   Circle #2:   Beyond your core group are newer friends, as well as people you’ve known for a long time but don’t see so regularly.

    Here you might include current coworkers, neighbors, and people you regularly bump into at social gatherings.

    Simply asking about the latest news and then expressing real interest is one way to cultivate this crowd. But if you don’t make an effort to grow the relationships, it is all too easy for these people to drift out of your orbit.
  •   Circle #3:   This large group could include dozens, hundreds or even thousands of acquaintances from over the years.

    Among them are kids you went to school with, coworkers from a while back, members of your Pilates class, and neighbors who wave when you’re out walking.

    Also here are folks you’ve never actually seen, like colleagues with offices across the country or the new spouses of old friends. You also might find Circle #3 to be a rich source of professional contacts with whom you’re seldom in touch – but could be.

    While each of your Circles has a special role to play, when you’re starting a job search Circle #3 is particularly important.

    One reason: your buddies in #1 and #2 tend to hear the same news that you do. Circle #3, however, is tight enough that you all share a real connection, and yet it’s broad enough to bring new insights and opportunities.
  •   Circle #4:   Your network expands considerably when you include people with whom you simply share a community.

    Maybe you’ve never met these folks, but you could because you belong to the same organizations, went to the same college, or share some of the same history.

    The essence of a community is that it’s a group that has members, rather than a random collection of unconnected people. Membership may be informal or unacknowledged, but you do have something in common with each person, regardless of whether you’ve met.

    A growing body of research links good health with social connection, and suggests that you benefit from engaging with even loose, widespread communities.

    For job seekers, the good news about Circle #4 is that people often respond warmly to fellow members, even when they haven’t met. An easy starting point can be reaching out to alumni from your college.

    And also consider "employer alumni," and get in touch with people who once worked in the same places you did.
  •   Circle #5:   Your social media contacts may include thousands of people from around the world who share your interests. In this Circle you are playing long shots.

    But don’t discount the possibilities here. I’ve found wonderful clients and friends through sites like LinkedIn. Among them is Susan P. Joyce, creator of Job-Hunt.org, whom I met through a Twitter introduction by a mutual friend.

    A good starting point for networking online is to search for and follow people in your professional field. If you like what they write, get their attention by regularly sharing and commenting about their posts.

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.

5 Smart Ways to Nurture Your Network Circles

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:

  1. Make matches.  

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.

  2. Show up.  

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.

  3. Cheer.  

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.

  4. Notice rough patches.  

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.

  5. Volunteer.  

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.

The Bottom Line:

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.

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About the author...

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. Find Bev on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.