An Executive’s Guide to Networking

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E78 Staff

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Executive networking isn’t only to build a pipeline for future career opportunities, although that’s often reason enough.  No, it’s about establishing a personal brand and crafting a stellar reputation in your industry. It’s about mentoring and sharing your talents and expertise with others. And it’s about your own personal growth and professional development. You’ll need to take a more subtle, multi-dimensional approach, to build a network that does all this, so let’s dig in.

1.  Always be networking.
It’s even a hashtag now! This is #1 for a reason – it will make everything else in our list possible. Set aside dedicated time each week to networking. Find a CRM that works for you and regularly update your contacts, add notes and assign yourself follow-up tasks. This could be as simple as Microsoft Excel. Spend your time and resources to make networking a habit you’ll never want to break.  

2.  Think long-term.
Networking is important, even (and especially) when you’re comfortable in your current employment. If you find yourself in a transition at some point in the future, your well-curated network will be ready to roll. As many as 85% of positions are filled via networking – and you’ll have a head start so DON’T WAIT. There are other long-term advantages – use your network to build a talent pool for your own organization. Use it to keep a pulse on the competition. This is not about quick “wins”. Surrounding yourself with mentors, peers, and experts (from both within and outside your company) will keep you on top of trends, best practices and opportunities.

3.  Be the “connector”.
Be the person remembered for doing something positive, without being asked and without anything in it for you.Bring people together from different markets, interest groups, and backgrounds to talk, share, and collaborate.Executive networking involves more giving than receiving. Many execs make the mistake of NOT giving back. Embrace your role as a resource for valued colleagues and be ready to open doors, make connections and answer questions. Don’t sit back and wait for someone to request guidance – be proactive and take the lead.

4.  Get involved in your community.
Come at this one from three different angles, focusing on a diverse mix of all three.

  • Functional – Get involved in professional organizations related to your industry and your specific role in it. Offer to mentor young associates or lead a training session.
  • Special Interest – Volunteer with or join a group that supports something you are passionate about – like environmental advocacy or helping the food insecure. The experience will be both gratifying AND can lead to some interesting relationships.
  • Individual – This is the easy one – your kids’ school, the golf club, alumni associations. Your family and friends can also be great support for you!

5.  Leverage social platforms.
Network from your desk! Follow us through this scenario:

  • Join an online forum, even if this isn’t typically your “thing”. Find one that aligns with your goals or interests and jump in! Don’t simply scroll through the posts – contribute to the discussions, ask questions and lend advice.
  • Once you’ve made some connections, follow them on LinkedIn or Twitter. Engage in a dialogue (not an argument), establish a deeper connection and then reach out directly.
  • This connection will make an introduction easier. Instead of a “Hi, I’m interested in…” email, you can reference a recent post or take a conversation from the forum to email.
  • Keep your first, direct interaction short and sweet. Set yourself up for a follow-up and then begin laying the groundwork for a more lasting relationship.

6.  Be thankful for connections made, no matter the outcome.
Again, this is not about “closing the deal”. Some paths will lead to deep, long-term relationships and others will stay closer to the surface. Always express your gratitude and a sincere offer to return the gesture/advice/favor in the future. Your strategy should be filled with humility and a genuine interest in giving more than receiving. Finally, let your curiosity drive your networking approach. Ask questions and LISTEN to the answers. Push yourself out of your comfort zone where you can. Cast a wide net and bring diversity into your network. It’s the best way to gain access to more innovative ideas and meaningful opportunities.

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