At 22, I landed a job as a policy analyst for a government office in a small town. My duty was to mediate between different departments within the county and find out how they could use policy methods from other parts of the country to improve their productivity. I felt extremely accomplished to have landed that role at such a young age and was confident I could take on whatever the world throws my way. It was my first job post-college, in the field I had just studied, so of course, it felt great to be putting my degree to use already.
I realized that apart from school and professional experience, office politics is the third important factor in job success. I was unfortunately not prepared for this aspect. Eight months after I joined the company and have done some excellent policy analysis as well as an innovative new process, my supervisor at the time finally spoke to me. He leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, and paused for a moment before saying “You don’t really fit in here. Have you considered quitting?”
My initial reaction to his words was adverse, as they were quite harsh. However, I understood that he was correct. The office culture wasn’t a good fit for me, and I realized that in order to be successful in my career, I need a professional community rather than just a network of acquaintances who could get me a new job opportunity.
A professional network is a group of individuals dedicated to your success, whom you can rely on for anything from co-worker confrontations to project stability to new idea strategies. They may come from the same sector as you or from an entirely different field, but what unites them is their dedication to seeing your progress in your career. You don’t need to rebuild everything from the beginning– there are easy ways you can start today in constructing a community instead of just a network.
Hire for Integrity
I love this Warren Buffet saying because it’s both concise and practical. As you expand your network, look for people who have high integrity. Those with integrity can be relied on in their job as well as personal life, meaning during a time of crisis, you have one less thing to worry about when needing support from them.
Choose a Peer or Two
I believe in the value of both mentorship and sponsorship, and I have had great experiences with both. However, I also think it is important to have peer relationships. Early on in my career,I worked with a woman who was about five years older than me. Even though she never held an official title as a mentor, I gradually noticed that she was exhibiting all the behaviors that I needed to imitate to achieve success in that workplace. It took me some time to muster up the courage to tell her how grateful I was for her demonstration. When I finally did, she reacted graciously and with humility. Talk to your friends about their work lives. You can learn a lot from each other, and sometimes the best things are right in front of us.
Who’s an Expert?
Drawing a blank on an important work project? Me too. Recently, I was working on a start-up-related project and needed to know more about the legal issues surrounding them. After brainstorming and exhaustively scouring the internet, I found an event that would have all the answers to my questions. Talk about being saved! I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good friend of mine was the main presenter when I read over the Eventbrite details. This event reminded me that it is crucial to take time out of my day to reflect on my connections and realize who would be best to go to for specific needs. In other words, taking 10 minutes out of my day to make a list and categorizing contacts based on their expertise would be definitely worth it.
But I Already Have 500+ Contacts
If you’re reading this article, then chances are that networking is one of your fortes. You probably have plenty of business contacts, but it’s the close professional relationships that will be most valuable to you when you need a new job. It all comes down to cultivation. If you want to progress professionally, it’s crucial that you maintain and enhance the relationships you have. choose five of your most important business connections and commit to reaching out this week. Whether it’s sending them an article, updating them on your work or asking for advice, taking that extra step will help you develop deeper relationships — and potentially advance your career.
Ten years after my first job, I feel grateful to know the people who I can now call my community. It might take some time and effort, but forming a professional family is one of the best things you can do for your career. Being surrounded by like-minded individuals who are all striving to create a more positive world through their unique roles is one of the things that makes me feel wealthier than anything else.
Want to find out more about how you can foster a meaningful professional community?
Watch Office Hours with Porter Gale to find out!