Your Professional Circle Must Have These 4 People

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to expand your professional circle? How can you identify and connect with people who will benefit your professional growth?

Connecting with anyone—from your peers to leaders in your field, to your friends of friends—is arguably beneficial. The larger and more diverse your professional circle is, the more support you can receive, and the more people you can help in return.

Read about the four types of people that should be in your professional circle.

4 Types of People You Need in Your Professional Circle

There are four types of people with whom you should make an extra effort to network and get into your professional circle:

  1. People who can help you to achieve your goals
  2. Mentors
  3. Super-connectors
  4. Prestigious contacts

Type #1: People Who Can Help You Meet Your Goals

The most important people in your professional circle are the people who will help you to achieve your goals. This usually means professionals who have a direct connection to the field you aspire to succeed in. For instance, connecting with education professionals may help you achieve the goal of joining your local school board.

In this section, we’ll cover the three steps you need to take to successfully network with people who can help you achieve your goals:

  1. Decide upon your goals.
  2. Make a plan for achieving your goals, and figure out who can help you with each step of the plan.
  3. Find people to hold you accountable as you pursue your goals and start to network.

Step #1: Decide Upon Your Goals

Before you start to build a professional circle with people who can help you achieve your goals, you need to figure out what your goals actually are. Ferrazzi sees setting goals as a three-step process:

1) List Your Passions

First, you need to list your passions: the things you truly care about. Many people find that their passions are obvious: They know that they enjoy, for example, encouraging people to be more environmentally friendly. If you’re struggling to identify your passions, take some quiet time to think deeply about who you are and what you like to do. 

2) List Your Talents

The second step of identifying your goals is listing your talents. Some people find it difficult to objectively assess their strengths: for example, if they lack confidence. For this reason, the best way to figure out where your talents lie is to ask trusted friends and family members what they think your strengths are. 

Request that these people be brutally honest in their assessment of your abilities. If they aren’t—for instance, if they tell you that you are good at something you’re bad at to spare your feelings—they’re only setting you up for failure when you pursue goals that you’re not qualified to achieve. 

3) Identify Intersections Between Your Passions and Talents

The final step in deciding upon your goals is comparing your list of passions and your list of strengths and identifying areas where they intersect. For instance, you may find that not only are you passionate about public speaking, your friends and family think you’re good at it, too. 

Once you’ve found these areas of intersection, set a professional goal related to one of them. For example, the passionate and skilled public speaker could set the goal of becoming a media spokesperson. By picking a goal that aligns with your skills and passions, you’re setting yourself up for both career success and happiness.

Step #2: Make a Plan

Once you’ve identified your professional goal, the next step is to make what Ferrazzi calls a “Relationship Action Plan” (RAP). This is a written plan that details not only how you plan to achieve your professional goals, but who should be in your professional circle to help you get there.

To create your RAP, follow these four steps:

  1. Write down a long-term goal that you want to achieve within the next three years. 
  2. Write down at least one medium-term goal that will help you to achieve your long-term goal. This should be a goal that you can achieve within one year.
  3. Write down at least one short-term goal that will help you to achieve your medium-term goal. This should be a goal that you can achieve within three months.
  4. Next to all of your goals, write down who you think you’ll need to network with to achieve them. For example, if your goal is to work at a particular company, write down that business’s hiring manager. 
Rules for Creating and Using Your RAP

When creating and using your RAP, there are four rules:

Rule #1: Make each goal as specific as possible. For instance, don’t just write down “make lots of sales.” Instead, write down a specific target and how you’ll measure your success. For example, write, “I want to increase my quarterly sales output substantially. I will consider myself to have achieved this goal once I’m making $100,000 worth of sales each quarter.”

Rule #2: Make the goals challenging, but achievable. For instance, if you made $50,000 worth of sales last month, don’t set the goal of making $50,500 worth of sales next month—that’s far too easy. Likewise, don’t challenge yourself to make $1 million worth of sales next month—that’s completely impossible. Instead, set a challenging yet reasonable revenue target number like $75,000.

If your goals are unchallenging, you’ll find the process of achieving them boring and unfulfilling. Meanwhile, if they’re challenging to the point of being impossible to achieve, you’ll set yourself up for demotivation and disappointment. 

Rule #3: Regularly update your RAP as you complete your initial goals. Having an up-to-date plan for where you want to go next in your career (and who you should network with in the process) is useful no matter how much you’ve already achieved.

Rule #4: Display your RAP somewhere prominent. For example, place it on your work desk or your fridge. Frequently seeing your RAP—and, therefore, being reminded of your goals—will help you stay focused. 

Type #2: Mentors in a Professional Circle

The second type of contact that you should network with is mentors. Mentors are experienced professionals who are willing to support your career development. They can provide many kinds of assistance, including:

  • Advice on the experience and skills you’ll need to advance your career. If your mentor works in the same field as you, they can give industry-specific tips. If not, they can still give you general advice and guidance—for example, about the transferable skills that you’ll need to progress in any field.
  • Specific help with one of the goals on your RAP. For example, if one of your goals is to improve your selling skills, and your mentor is a salesperson, they could tutor you.
  • Insider information on the latest developments in their industry. For example, they can tell you if it’s booming at the moment and thus a good field to move into.
  • Introductions to useful contacts in their network. For instance, if you’re searching for a job, they can introduce you to any recruiters that they know. 
  • Information about job openings at their company. If they’re influential, they may put in a good word for you with the hiring manager.
  • Emotional support if things go wrong. Your mentor will probably have faced various personal and professional struggles over the years, meaning they’ll be able to empathize and offer support if you face issues yourself. 
  • Inspiration. Knowing this successful person may inspire you to chase success yourself.

How to Find a Mentor

There are various ways to find a mentor:

  • Through an official mentoring program at your workplace
  • By “unofficially” asking your manager or another high-level professional at your workplace to mentor you
  • By asking your parents or other older relatives if they can put you in contact with experienced professionals who would be willing to help you
  • By directly approaching business owners, store managers, and other prominent professionals who live in your area. For example, when the author was a young professional, he approached a successful local lawyer and stockbroker and asked these men to mentor him—and they agreed. 

Type #3: Super-Connectors

Super-connectors are people who have a huge professional circle—contacts that you can ask to be introduced to. Super-connectors often gain such large numbers of contacts because they work in industries that require them to know lots of people—for example, the media, or recruitment.

Below are short profiles of eight types of super-connector, including tips on what you can offer them to encourage them to connect with you:

Super-Connector #1: The High-Class Restaurateur. High-class restaurants get dozens of customers each day, including influential people that it may be useful to network with. If you become close to these establishments’ owners, they may offer to introduce you to the customers that they know best.

What to offer them: Your custom. Eat at their restaurant regularly, bring all of your friends and family there, and, if possible, use it as a venue for events. 

Super-Connector #2: The Headhunter. Headhunters and other recruiting professionals will know hundreds of people in the industry they work in, especially hiring managers. Connecting with them will come in handy if you find yourself looking for a job.

What to offer them: Business leads. Offer to introduce them to a contact of yours in need of a job, or a contact who’s a hiring manager in the industry that they cover. 

Super-Connector #3: The Political Lobbyist. Lobbyists have contacts both in the political sphere and in the organizations that they lobby on behalf of—for example, large corporations and nonprofits.  

What to offer them: Practical support with their lobbying efforts. Lobbyists frequently organize events to bring together the politicians that they’re trying to influence. Offer to help the lobbyist to organize these events.

Super-Connector #4: The Politician. To generate support and get (or remain) elected, politicians connect with people from many walks of life, including community leaders, local business figures, the general public, and even celebrities. 

What to offer them: Help with their campaign. For example, you could try to drum up support for the politician or their policies among your network or offer to host campaign events. (Note that you should only offer to help a politician who shares your values—unless you want to gain a reputation for abandoning your morals just to get close to power.)

Super-Connector #5: The Fundraiser. Fundraisers work for organizations such as political parties, nonprofits, and educational institutions. They usually have legions of wealthy contacts whom they can approach for financial support.

What to offer them: Financial support for their cause. Either give to the cause yourself—if you support it and are financially able to—or introduce the fundraiser to people who are able to donate.

Super-Connector #6: The PR Professional. PR professionals generally have two types of contact: the famous people they represent, and the journalists they rely on to spread the word about their clients. 

What to offer them: Business leads. Let the PR professional know if any of your contacts require their services. Alternatively, offer to introduce the PR professional to the journalists in your network. 

Super-Connector #7: The Journalist. Journalists usually have many contacts in the industry they cover—that’s how they get their leads and story tips. They may also have contacts in the wider media industry—for example, newspaper editors and news program producers.

What to offer them: Story leads. If something important or interesting is happening in your industry or at your company, let the journalist know.

Super-Connector #8: The Social Media Guru. So-called social media “gurus” are dominant voices in the online space. They often have thousands or sometimes millions of followers—many of whom could be useful people to connect with.

What to offer them: More exposure. Share their social media posts on your feed or timeline. Even people with large followings appreciate exposure to new audiences.

Type #4: Prominent People

The final type of contact you should network with and try to add to your professional circle: individuals who are leaders in their industry and are possibly famous because of this (think of celebrity entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates or Elon Musk). 

Networking with these individuals is useful for two reasons. First, you can probably learn a lot from them. Industry leaders are usually highly skilled and intelligent. Second, your connection with this prominent person may lead to more potential contacts approaching you. People will assume that since this impressive individual has deemed you worthy of their friendship, you must be special and therefore worth connecting with.

How to Network With Prominent People

The first step in networking with prominent people is figuring out who the most notable people in your field are. There are various ways to do this:

  • Search LinkedIn. Look at the pages of large companies in your industry to find out who their CEOs and other executives are.  
  • Read trade magazines. These publications often feature profiles of major players in the industry they cover. 
  • Check traditional media. Search for news reports about the biggest companies in your industry, and note the names of the executives that have been interviewed or quoted. Likewise, look for feature articles such as “40 Under 40” lists that highlight prominent professionals in a certain field. 

Next, you need to somehow come into contact with these important people. The most effective way to do this is to become a prominent figure yourself. Work hard to advance your career and become a well-respected figure in your field. Once you become an industry leader, you’re more likely to be invited to the kinds of prestigious events—for example, exclusive conferences, or awards ceremonies—where other prominent people linger.

Admittedly, if you’re at the start of your career, it may be decades before you become an industry leader. Here are some ways for you to come into contact with prominent people in the meantime:

  • Become a prominent member of a professional organization that’s relevant to your field—for example, a member of the board, or even the president. You then have a reason to approach (and hopefully connect with) industry leaders—for instance, to ask them to speak at your organization’s events.
  • Get involved with a charity or nonprofit, as an activist or a board member. Many charities and nonprofits enlist prominent people to generate publicity for their cause. As a leading member of the organization, you may get to meet these individuals.
  • Start playing golf, preferably at a high-class or elite club. Golf is the favorite sport of many prominent people—maybe you’ll bump into one on the course? 

Establish Trust

Establishing trust is an important part of building your professional circle. However, it’s particularly important when trying to get close to a prominent figure, since people frequently take advantage of these individuals. Specifically, they use them to gain fame, money, or status. 

To gain a prominent person’s trust, you need to convince them that you care about more than benefitting from their position. The best way to do this is to treat them as you would any friend of any status. Don’t fawn over the person or bring up their importance all the time. Instead, steer your conversations towards “ordinary” topics such as their hobbies and family life. Hopefully, this will convince them that you’re interested in actually getting to know them as a person, not just a benefactor. 

Your Professional Circle Must Have These 4 People

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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