(Re) Starting Your Career #1 – Keep Up Your Network

File:ParisCafeDiscussion.pngI had the privilege of taking a group of Mount Royal University students out for breakfast a couple of weeks ago. They had “won” me as part of the Clean Tech Challenge last semester. (I’m the judge at the front left). I really had no agenda when we scheduled the brunch. I was thinking about what these smart, hard-working students went through together in their intense 24 hours together, how they had bonded, and how they stood on the cusp of their careers. Most are now in their last semester and are making plans to move and get their first “grown up” job.

I was thinking about what unsolicited career advice I would want to share if asked. What might they want to hear and be able to use at what might well be their last breakfast together? The answer was sitting in front of me. It was them. They group and their connections were the answer.

Keep Up Your Network

When I say “network”, I don’t mean the used-car-salesman-exchanging-business-cards at some after work networking function, a staged networking post-conference pre-dinner event, or building a LinkedIn following. I mean maintaining friendships with professional people whom you know and like because you have an authentic, energizing relationship with them. People with a proven track record of contributing positively to your life, who you actually enjoy spending time with who also happen to be somehow connected to your career.

Your real network is that set of people who you feel comfortable asking questions and favours of, and whom you enthusiastically would answer questions and do favours for without expectation of return.

The friends you make in school, your volunteer work, your first jobs are the friends that are going to help you get that next job, promotion, or perfect recruit for that job you’re trying to fill or company you’re trying to start. You want them to think of you when they’re reaching out to people to solve a problem, so that they’ll think of you when they’re trying to do you a favour. Sometimes those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

So why ignore them until you need them? That’s just awkward. Yes, some of us believe we should be able to get things done, persuade others, or find work based on the merits of our work or the basis of facts. But it doesn’t always go that way.

People make decisions based on their gut and emotion, which means people they trust – right or wrong – have a greater influence than people they don’t trust. Trust built over time and with regular contact. Is it fair? Maybe not, but it’s reality. And I’d rather deal with reality than whatever ideal construct I have imagined in my head.

Start Now

Try this thought experiment: you’re suddenly looking for a job. Or maybe not so suddenly. Who are you going to call, write, have coffee with? Who are you going to send your resume to?

Now, do you feel comfortable dropping those people a line today and asking them for a favour? Have you kept in contact with them, asked them how they’re doing, taken even two minutes to write a note every once in a while? Do you have a real relationship with them?

If reaching out to your friends and co-workers feels awkward when you need them, then the time to reach out to them is now, and regularly from now on.

Bernie works with small, medium (and sometimes) large companies, start-ups, and volunteer organizations to help them set a vision that is executable, to be effective, and to surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I believe the workplace is a place to thrive, not just survive. Call me if you want help transforming your business. 

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