Rosemary McLean, Director at the Career Innovation Company, shares insights on curating important career relationships.
When it comes to careers there is no mistaking that other people play a key role; family, teachers, early career decision influencers, those who hired us, managers, peers, and inspirational role models all play a part.
Some argue that our ‘social capital’ determines whether we succeed. For many this is a limitation; they simply don’t have the relationships to help them break into the job market or make progress in their career. Professional bodies and employers do a lot to support careers; providing individuals with access to development, mentoring, and sponsorship. Indeed, many are also taking positive action to increase diversity and inclusion so that the ‘vital many’ can reach their potential.
What has always interested me is how we can empower individuals to influence their own careers through developing daily career habits that make a difference. Building and nurturing a professional network is one of them.
Much can be done to build these important relationships. It’s all about being true to yourself, reciprocity, being intentional, and having a goal in mind.
Some people find the idea of building a ‘professional network’ off-putting – but Career Innovation’s research – based on 7 career habits – has shown that people who feel positive about their professional relationships, and know how to spot opportunities also have greater career satisfaction.
Top Tips for Building Your Career Relationships
Recognise it’s important
Many people say their career ‘just sort of happened!’. On closer scrutiny, decisions were made, paths not taken, and consistent themes emerge. Career is often seen in hindsight.
As we enter the 4th Industrial Revolution more foresight is needed to ‘futureproof’ our careers by anticipating the type of work and opportunities that might emerge. By looking outwards and tapping into others’ insights we won’t leave our career to chance.
Have a goal in mind
Detailed planning won’t work but try to identify broad professional aims; align your career needs and interests with the trends or opportunities you see emerging. Ask yourself whether you have the right relationships to achieve your goals?
Do a network analysis- strong & weak ties
In practice our relationships matter to us for several reasons. Who do you go to for support and encouragement? advice and guidance? Who can connect you with others? Chances are you’ll have trusted relationships with professional peers and managers. Consider the depth and breadth of these relationships.
Mark Granovetter first introduced the idea of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ ties. Weak ties are relationships outside of your immediate circle, and they are more important for spotting opportunities and accessing new information. Your number of connections is less important than their diversity.
To apply the theory, read how to revive a tired network
Take an ‘informational interviewing’ approach
It’s important to branch out, especially when you are looking to move into a new role, become more visible, or make a career change. Use day to day encounters, or approach new contacts to find out more about what they do. Be inquisitive, you’ll be surprised how much people like to share about their career or work. Set up ‘informational interviews’ to inform your career exploration.
Pay attention to your professional reputation
Who can speak well of you, or have you in mind for opportunities as they arise? Be aware of your career brand; it’s what people associate with you, your reputation. Everything you do every day will influence this, even how you write your emails! Do consider the impression you are making, and don’t assume your work will speak for itself; try to ensure others know what you are capable of, by sharing your professional expertise and insights.
Staying true to yourself
It’s not about becoming an extreme extrovert if that isn’t you. Be yourself. Asking good questions and being a great listener can go a long way to building positive relationships. The Success Code by John Lees provides some great ideas for how to get noticed without overly selling yourself.
The first principle of networking is to offer help to others. Contribute, before asking for support. Support will follow.
Engage with your professional community
Being an active member of a professional body allows you to build new relationships, and keep your professional development current. If you change employers frequently or become self-employed, you gain continuity of ‘professional identity’ and relationships that can last a lifetime. The more you get involved, the greater the benefits, so why not become a mentor, or offer to run a seminar – it’s about being bold and stepping out.
The Career Innovation Company works with membership organisations worldwide, putting in place large-scale online support for professional and career development. Their flagship services www.careerinnovation.zone and Be Bold in your Career empower members to develop their careers within their professional community.