Questioning who is part of your network, is a present-day problem. Before social media and online connectivity, the answer to this was clear – you either knew the person or you didn’t. Now with so many of our connections being virtual, I’ve had many clients seeking clarity on who is IN their network.
- Most people are hired (I believe the number is around 80%), through some sort of networking.
- Your family and close friends aren’t your best networks – think of it this way: you are in the exact same circle as they are in. So what they know, you know – and vice versa. They can and will help you, but you are probably already aware of the opportunities that they can provide.
- The most important people in your network, are usually at the acquaintance level. They are still within your circle, but are not so closely entangled with your everyday life that they can’t deliver new opportunities.
The Basics of Your Real Network
I could give you the definition of a network, but for our purposes, your network includes the people who can help move your career forward and who you are ready, willing, and able to make an “ask.” So for those thousands of friends you are hoarding on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, etc. – there should be a clear distinction between who you know and if they can help.
How linear you want to be in determining “network opportunity” status, is up to you. Here’s what I have found works best.
General Networking Rules of Thumb
1. You know them personally or have been directly introduced to.
Knowing someone personally doesn’t necessarily mean that you have met them in person. What it does mean, is that you have had an interaction, or better yet – a series of interactions, with the person. You met him/her at an event, at work, or in line; or you have had conversations over Twitter with him/her.
Knowing someone personally means that when they see your name pop up in their email inbox, they are going to have immediate recognition. You don’t have to be besties, but you should have established some sort of connection to consider them in your network.
2. They can provide assistance.
To be included in your career network, the person has to be able to move you closer to your goal, even just a little bit. They can help you with a connection, provide information to you, send along openings that they are aware of, give you insight to any classes/courses you may need, and so on.
Note – providing assistance does not only equal, being able to hire you. Yes, having a hiring manager with an open position in your dream job is a strong contact, but it’s not the only way to consider people “in.” (I just had a Project Runway moment there).
3. You are ok if they respond to your request, or don’t respond to your request.
This is the step that people usually get hung up on. “If Jim doesn’t get back to me or worse, he is upset, I will be mortified!”
I totally get that, and in fact, is usually the path I go down when I’m pondering reaching out to my network. The reality of the situation is that to Jim, it’s probably not a big deal. In fact, he won’t have any reaction to it at all – he’ll either respond, or he won’t. There isn’t a big list of “stupid or annoying” requests that will keep you off the cool list forever.
However, if there is a person that you are worried will change the way they see you or interact with you, then you should reevaluate if this person is considered network-worthy.
In my own network freak-outs, I get nervous about sending out information to people who are more “established” than I am. They are friends, I know them personally, they can provide assistance, but I don’t want to seem… amateur. I hesitate adding them to my reach-out list. Why? Because I value their opinion and don’t want to overuse my asks or leverage too many favors. This type of reasoning, does not fully meet item three! While I am nervous, they can still help – so it’s a personal growth opportunity for me to reach out. I don’t do it often, and I don’t freak out upon their response (or lack thereof), but I have found that they are usually the most supportive!
4. You have an easy way to contact them.
Here’s where my age my show a bit, but Facebook messaging them doesn’t really count as a good way to contact them. Neither does a LinkedIn message for that matter. You should have a solid, honest-to-goodness email address that will land your request in their inbox, or a working telephone number (do not even THINK about texting them), or you have a valid mailing address.
If they are in your network and you have personally connected with them, then you will have the above – or you can easily ask them for it.
Remember that on most social media sites, there’s a way to get their email and/or phone number, so step up and research that instead of reverting to messaging within those networks.
Still not sure they’re “in your network?” If they meet most of the criteria above, it never hurts to make the ask – just be sure you are respectful and follow the guidelines I’ve outlined here.