No more excuses! Feeling too old, too young, too new, too introverted to successfully connect with people who can help your career? Nonsense. Everyone needs to create a contact database. Anyone can build one.
Most jobs are found through informal networks of connections, the “six degrees of separation” that connect different people through a chain of friends of friends. These connections should be stored in a contact database. This database is ground zero for your network strategy. Because of the symbiotic relationship between who you know and what you do, it is imperative that you pay attention to your contact list. Let’s begin.
Who is on your network?
Your network should include people from:
- Your past – people you used to know
- Your present – people who are currently part of your world
- Your future – people you would like to meet
Contacts not only come from these three points in time, but also, as Figure 1 shows, from three overlapping areas of activity: personal, aspirational and professional.
Aspiration and occupational areas are most relevant to careers. These contacts are your links to other career paths, geographic movements and the next steps in your currently selected area.
- Many people equate their contacts with the personal sphere. These people are your best friends, family, and other close contacts who provide support and assistance. They also tend to aid your thinking, rather than adding new ideas, and are therefore less useful than the other areas for career change.
- Your professional field includes people from current and past working lives, people in complementary professions, salespeople selling to you, your customers, and your friends. Their careers and contacts lead to information and introductions.
- Demanding bonds usually represent your weakest links. This is your dream builder, the knowledge improvement network. You can find these links everywhere – at events, on social media, in reading materials. This includes experts in your field, areas you would like to learn more about, or areas you may be considering.
People in your target network can help you develop the skills and knowledge you need to be successful. They can be successful leaders or innovators. Some teach you new hobbies or life skills. Others will be thought leaders, visionaries and trainers. Each of them exposes you to new ideas and behaviors that prepare you to move forward.
The contacts should of course include best friends. Strong bonds that you use for comfort, support, and reassurance. “However, if your network is just like you, you are likely to have less access to new ideas and opportunities. . . . People who network strategically take advantage of both their strong and weak ties. The former for support, the latter for bringing in new information. “
You have weak ties with acquaintances or friends of friends. They are people on your Christmas card list, people whose business cards you have kept just in case, friends of your friends: “Someone you know in italics or historically, or maybe even a thorough network of friends. Someone you’ve worked with in the past, someone whose child was on your child’s soccer team 10 years ago, a former neighbor, an acquaintance in a professional group. And strangely enough, it’s someone who can make a difference. “
“When you look at diagrams showing network relationships, you can see the importance of weak bonds in creating links between pods of personal, strong networks.” Weak ties bring new insights into your network.
How do I create my list?
In theory, the size of a network is infinite. If you ask a network contact to introduce you to a close contact, and if you assume that each person has at least fifty close contacts, the numbers are overwhelming.
You can make adding contacts more realistic, manageable, and effective by keeping them connected to your career goals.
- Where are you now in your career
- Where do you want to be in five years? ten years?
- What do you need to know and learn to get there?
- Who do you need to know to find answers to these questions?
Answers to these four questions build your path to expanding your contact list. Remember: you’re not necessarily looking for a large number of strong relationships. Rather, your focus is on expanding medium and weak connections with people with new ideas and areas of influence that you can introduce into their network.
Start by going through old business cards, address books, college directories, office staff lists, fellow nonprofit committee members, friends from community activities, and more. Add speakers from saved conference agendas. Add authors you value highly. Add professors, consultants, mentors and inspiring leaders. Add them all to your contact database.
From this expanded contact list, choose 25 names that seem most relevant to your goals. Check with online sources to update what you know about them.
- Do some research online to see where they have been and where they are now.
- Check their profiles on LinkedIn and their workplace websites.
- Find the contacts whose career path or current jobs interest you.
Turn paper connections into live relationships
Create network strategies to make connections. Think of career networking as building relationships with people and organizations to better understand your career choices. Remember: these are mutual relationships. As you learn about others, you will find ways that they can achieve their goals, and they will do the same for you.
Do you think it will be uncomfortable to suddenly run into someone you haven’t seen or heard from in years? It could be; However, it’s more likely that if you frame it the right way, they’ll be happy to reconnect and feel flattered. First, connect via email to set a talk time, connect to LinkedIn and send an email request for an informational interview, or just pick up the phone and call.
Start conversations with the truth
- With a “past life” friend: “I know it’s been ages since we talked. I’m calling now to see how you are doing and asking for career advice. ” [Talk about how they are doing now.] “I want to switch from _______ to your practice area. Hope you can help me understand what I need to do to prepare for this type of job and how best to find such a job. Could we schedule a 15 minute conversation? “
- With an acquaintance: “I don’t know if you remember me. We met _______. I was impressed with your career. Now I want to do the same. I was wondering if we could arrange a 15 minute call. “
Please remember to keep them updated. Thank you for approving the call, and if you follow their advice, let them know what happened.
Keep your list fresh
Creating lists is an iterative process. As your career ideas change, so should the people on the list. Make a habit of adding new names or new information to names already on the list after each network activity. For example:
- At your monthly networking group meeting, you heard that Charlie was changing company. After the meeting, update your database and give them a call to congratulate them and learn more about the move. Record your action and what you have learned in your database.
- After an event, add the names of the few people you had important conversations with, including where you met them, why they were there, and what highlights they have.
- Every six months, search your list to identify stale contacts and identify gaps that you need to fill in order to bring the list into line with your current goals.
Keep building and expanding your contacts’ areas of interest and you’ll have a resource ready wherever your career takes you.
 Carol Schiro Greenwald, Chapter 3, Strategic Networking for Introverts, Extroverts, and Everyone in Between (ABA, LPD, 2019), p. 34.
. Marc Miller, “Use your weak ties to get a job”, August 17, 2016, forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2016/08/17/to-get-a-job-use-your-weak-ties / # 2619254a6b87.
 Greenwald, Strategic Networking for Introverts, Extroverts, and Everyone in Between, p. 34.