How to Build a Network That Will Boost Your Career

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Startup of You" by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why are supporters and advisers important for career development? How do you build a network of strong connections?

Making connections is an essential part of business, especially for those looking for new opportunities. As Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha state in their book The Startup of You, job-seekers should surround themselves with people of similar interests so they can learn to be like them and follow their path.

Below you’ll learn how to build a network that will help you build the career you want.

The Steps to Build a Professional Network

Without supporters and advisors, you can only make decisions based on your limited perspective and knowledge. Learning how to build a network, however, exposes you to many different perspectives that can help you make professional decisions and provide you with a wealth of opportunities, insights, and support. Even further, Hoffman and Casnocha point out that the people around you affect the kind of person you become, so you should network with people you want to be like.

(Shortform note: Groups are even more intelligent when they’re diverse, argues Matthew Syed in Rebel Ideas. This is because groups whose members come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives have greater overall knowledge to draw on than groups whose members all think alike. As a result, diverse groups enjoy enhanced intelligence and innovation as long as each individual is competent. When building a network as Hoffman and Casnocha recommend, consider how diverse your connections are.)

1. Build Networks by Giving Value

According to Hoffman and Casnocha, a strong network is made up of diverse connections and close relationships, which you can cultivate by viewing networking as forming genuine and mutually-beneficial relationships. Instead of focusing on getting something out of your contacts, take interest in their concerns, too. When building your network, the authors suggest you focus on having strong relationships rather than making many surface-level connections. This generates the most reliable support, opportunities, and ideas to aid you in your professional growth. 

The authors offer a few suggestions for building and strengthening your network:

Give value to others first. To nurture your connections, take time to figure out what they value and offer them something first. It doesn’t have to be anything costly, the authors argue. You could provide insider information, help them practice for a job interview, or put your existing skills to use, like by giving them a painting to hang up in the bakery they just opened.

Accept their help. According to the authors, people enjoy helping others as it makes them feel good about themselves and strengthens their relationship with you. When people offer to help you, accept with gratitude.

Stay in touch. Many people are afraid that they’ll annoy others by trying to keep in touch, but the authors argue that this is rarely the case and encourage you not to assume so unless they give you a definitive “no.” Often, if you don’t receive a response, it might be because people are busy and want to be sure that you actually care about connecting with them and are willing to follow up. To show that you care, the authors advise you to reach out with a personalized message focused on them rather than an update about yourself or a generic greeting.

2. Cultivate Three Types of Relationships

The authors identify three types of relationships that you should cultivate in your network:

Close Allies: People you regularly consult, support, and collaborate with. You share a mutual feeling of trust and friendship as well as publicly promote and defend each other’s work and reputation. 

(Shortform note: In The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy advises that you carefully choose the people you regularly collaborate with. He explains that the five people you associate most closely with affect the kind of person you become. You become like the people you associate with because you regularly talk about the same things, do the same activities, and consume the same information. Hardy recommends you think about the people you spend the most time with and sort them into three categories: negative influences you should detach from, limiting influences you should spend less time with, and positive influences you should spend more time with.)

Acquaintances: People with whom you’re friendly yet share less of a personal relationship, such as your coworkers or old classmates. The unique advantage of having acquaintances, the authors explain, is that they often frequent different social circles than you and your closest allies, so they can offer valuable perspectives, expertise, and opportunities that can be helpful for your career.

(Shortform note: In The Defining Decade, Meg Jay echoes Hoffman and Casnocha’s claim that weaker acquaintance relationships can offer more promising opportunities because new opportunities almost always come from outside of your close contacts. She suggests you reach out to weaker connections by asking for a specific and easy favor. When you ask for a favor, research the other person and make sure your request matches their interests and expertise.)

Followers: People you might not directly interact with but who follow you on social media. When you have many followers, you can get in touch with influential people, get your work noticed, and stay up to date with your field. The advantage of cultivating followers is that it creates a self-perpetuating cycle—the more followers you gain, the more attention you get, leading to even more followers.

(Shortform note: Having many followers on social media can improve your reputation and help you attract opportunities because of social proof—evidence of how valuable you are based on how others view you. According to a survey, 60% of employers look at candidates’ social media activity when making hiring decisions. When you have many followers saying good things about you, you develop trust with employers even before they meet you. Conversely, when you lack visible supporters, there’s little proof of your successes or authenticity.)

3. Seek Information From Your Network

When you’ve built a strong network, it can offer personalized advice and insights about your career that you won’t be able to find in books or on the internet. Like successful entrepreneurs, you must learn to extract insights from your network to navigate uncertainties, stay on top of new developments in your field, and make important career decisions. Hoffman and Casnocha advise you to practice communicating with your network regularly to best benefit from their information and expertise.

To get the best advice, Hoffman and Casnocha recommend you:

Figure out who to consult. First, consult with the most relevant experts to your situation—those most knowledgeable or experienced with what you’re dealing with. For example, if you’re considering going back to school to get another degree, reach out to someone in your network who has that degree or works in a related field. After you’ve talked with them, reach out to close allies who know you well and can help you assess the relevance of the information based on your personal situation. Additionally, consider asking people whose judgment you trust in general, as they can often provide valuable outside perspectives on your situation.

Ask good questions. When asking for advice or information, avoid making it seem like an interrogation, which might make the other person uncomfortable and prevent them from sharing rich insights. Instead, encourage a real conversation by preparing a handful of good questions such as, “What’s the most exciting development in your field these days?” Ask both broad and specific questions to get the best information. If you’re interested in discussing a topic deeply, try framing the question in a new way.

Synthesize the information. Once you’ve spoken with different people, take time to synthesize the information you received and assess what’s helpful and what’s less relevant. Since everyone has their own biases and experiences, you can get the most out of your network’s knowledge by carefully comparing different pieces of information and making sense of contradictions.

Listen to your instincts. Hoffman and Casnocha advise you to check in with your instincts before and after you consult your network. Often, you’ll have a gut feeling about a career decision. If there’s no time to discuss an opportunity with your network, the authors say you should practice feeling comfortable with making decisions based on your gut feeling.

How to Build a Network That Will Boost Your Career

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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