It may be a cliché, but that’s because it’s true: who you know is just as important as what you know. Building a solid professional network is an investment that’ll pay dividends over time, from your first internship to the day you land that coveted corner office. Whether you’re a recent grad looking to get your foot in the door, a young employee aiming to grow, or a seasoned pro looking for a new career opportunity, these are the eight essential people to have in your network.
Who they are: Someone in your field who has expert-level knowledge and access.
How they help you: The industry insider is particularly important early in your career. They can help you read between the corporate lines, figure out what’s really going on in your workplace, and know what to expect next. The industry insider is also a valuable sounding board because they can anticipate decision makers’ reactions and next moves.
Who they are: The person who knows everyone– and everyone knows them.
How they help you: The super connector will introduce you to the right people, at the right time. This is someone who enjoys bringing people together, so don’t be afraid to express your interests or ask for an introduction. In fact, they can probably help you meet some of the other essential people on this list! Just remember to always send a thank-you note.
Who they are: Someone who has more professional experience than you and is happy to share it. A role model you’d like to emulate.
How they help you: Education doesn’t end when you graduate from school. The mentor will help you learn the ins and outs of your industry and share insights you won’t find in textbooks. They know how to navigate tricky situations and help develop a career plan to achieve your goals. This relationship should be more formal than the others on this list, with regular meetings to track and discuss your progress.
Who they are: Someone who has less professional experience than you and is eager to learn.
How they help you: There’s of course the simple pleasure of giving back, but a mentee can also help your career. This person won’t always be in a junior position, but they’ll always remember how you helped them out early on. They can also bring a fresh perspective to your work, grow your leadership skills, and help you become a better communicator.
Who they are: Someone looking to achieve similar goals as you, who’s at a comparable place in their career.
How they help you: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking all your peers are competitors. It’s much more valuable to befriend like-minded professionals who share your values and goals. The co-striver stands out for their ability to empathize and truly understand what you’re going through. They’re a valuable sounding board, advisor, and cheerleader as you learn and grow together.
Who they are: An enthusiastic advocate who puts you forward for advancement opportunities.
How they help you: This person is similar to a mentor in that they should have more experience than you and hold a certain level of professional influence, but different in that they actively advocate on your behalf. They shine a light on your work to make sure the right decision makers see it and know how brilliant you are!
Who they are: Your ultimate cheerleader.
How they help you: The champion is someone who truly believes in you and your career path. They’ll help you regain confidence in the face of inevitable failures and pump you up before big interviews, presentations, or deals. Crucially, they’ll also sing your praises to others. This is the type of person you want talking behind your back!
Who they are: Someone who’s fantastic at what they do, but has a different background, education, network, interest area, or perspective than you.
How they help you: This person or, preferably people, will provide a counterbalance to your unconscious biases and broaden your worldview. You may not always agree with them, but their input will help you make more equitable and informed decisions. They can also introduce to people and opportunities you wouldn’t typically encounter.
So you’ve filled your inner circle with all-star contacts, but what’s next? Like all relationships, professional networks require ongoing maintenance and care. Here are some tips to help them grow:
Don’t let too much time go by without touching base with your network. If reaching out doesn’t come naturally, set a reminder in your phone to make contact at least once a month. This doesn’t have to be anything grand; it can be as easy as forwarding along a quote or article they’ll find interesting. The point is to stay top of mind and not only come to them when you need something.
Share your goals loud and proud! Your network can’t help you if they don’t know what you want. While it may feel awkward at first to express your greatest hopes and dreams, remember these people are in your camp and eager to support you. You never know who they could connect you with or when the perfect job opportunity could cross their desk.
Networking isn’t a one-way street. In any relationship, you have to give as much as you take, even if that’s sometimes just a simple “thank you” email, a flower delivery, or a birthday card. Be sure to listen as much as you talk, and be willing to provide advice, support, or connections if the opportunity arises.
At Prepped, we understand the value of networking with the right people. We also know it’s easier said than done. But don’t worry– we can help get you started on the right foot by building your confidence and giving you the tools you need to succeed. Sign up now and start creating your plan for success.