Networking is a top predictor of career success, yet it is neglected by many businesspeople. Misunderstood and underappreciated, the value of networking isn’t always immediate with tangible results and therefore can be frustrating to busy professionals. Interestingly, there are several peer-reviewed studies on network science, which have shown that simply being in an open network is the best predictor of career success. In other words, the old saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” still rings true today.
Most people believe that you only need to network if you are actively looking for a job or if you have a career in sales, marketing or recruiting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of the thousands of supply chain candidates who I have recruited over the last 20-plus years, the most successful have embraced networking as a critical career-development strategy. They use their robust professional networks to actively seek out mutually beneficial relationships that enable them to achieve a high degree of success. Following are some of the strategies these people employ:
Strategize your approach. Begin by developing well-defined goals and action plans using the five steps below:
- Define your networking objectives and the benefits you want to receive.
- Make a list of the types of people you want to connect with, then rank them in order of importance.
- Determine appropriate networking opportunities, and schedule them in your calendar. This includes events, meetings and time spent on online networking sites.
- Create clear action steps and deadlines.
- Write everything down. Having your networking activities front and center keeps you on track and committed to your objectives.
Create mutually beneficial relationships. If you want to maximize return on your networking investment, strive to find out how you can help others. Anyone can grow digital connections on a computer screen, but it takes effort to develop real and meaningful relationships. Similarly, don’t sell yourself too hard. Instead, highlight how you can be of assistance, and emphasize the core benefits of establishing a connection, with the goal of creating a dialogue. Once you have a degree of comfort with the individual and it seems time to move beyond an online conversation, then you can ask to schedule a call or meeting.
Tap existing resources. One of the easiest ways to start building your network is by generating referrals from people you already know. Explain to them what you hope to gain through networking so that you receive the best referrals. Embrace diversity for maximum benefit; don’t limit yourself to people who only work in your profession.
Become a volunteer. Volunteerism is a great way to meet new people in a stress-free scenario while serving your local community. There are countless nonprofit organizations out there that would love to make use of your time and talents — one of which is definitely your local APICS chapter.
Continue your education. Local universities and community colleges offer classes to expand your knowledge and enable you to meet new people. Consider classes related to your career as well as your hobbies and passions.
Join professional associations. These groups, particularly supply chain associations, offer a wealth of networking advantages. Be sure to maximize your involvement by exploring the following avenues:
- Supply chain conferences take place over multiple days, offering educational value and the best and easiest way to make a lot of contacts in a short period of time.
- Local chapters provide an excellent way to socialize with other supply chain professionals in your region.
- Tap into your association’s online membership directory using search criteria such as industry, company, location or job title to find other members.
- Facility tours enable you to acquire real-world knowledge while meeting professionals who are hosting or attending the event.
Tap into alumni connections. Find your local chapter and get involved. People are usually willing, if not excited, to help someone from their alma mater.
Personalize your social network connection requests. Making each invitation request unique is more likely to catch the eye of your networking target, demonstrating that you have done your research and have a genuine interest in creating a mutually beneficial relationship. Answer these questions in your introductory message:
- Who are you?
- What do you hope to gain from connecting with this individual?
- What problems do you strive to solve in your profession?
- What are some potential ways that you could help the person you want to connect with?
Focus on quality over quantity. Networking is not a numbers game. I’d rather have 500 quality connections than 10,000 connections with random strangers with whom I have nothing in common. Some people act as if networking is a contest. You’ll see some of them even listing the number of connections they have in their profile headline. This is not only empty boasting, but also counter-productive, as amassing random connections actually can do harm to your social network.
Stay engaged, but don’t stalk. Strive for proper balance between staying active with your network and blowing up their inboxes. Be sure to leverage social media as well by liking, sharing and commenting on posts from members of your network. You can and should write and share your own content as well, but always focus on high-value content as opposed to self-promotion.
Networking requires a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone and engage with complete strangers. It takes patience, resiliency and commitment. Implement these tips to get going in the right direction.
Rodney Apple is founder and president of SCM Talent Group, a supply chain recruiting and executive search firm. He has served as the APICS career coach since 2014 and routinely contributes supply chain career development content for members. Apple may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.