“Your network is your destiny, a reality backed up by many studies in the newly emergent fields of social networking and social contagion theory. We are the people we interact with.” – Keith Ferrazzi
I have been a champion of building a professional network before Keith Ferrazzi wrote his famous book on networking and building your professional network called Never Eat Alone (2005).
Keith Ferrazzi is undoubtedly the global leader in relationships and networking. In fact, he’s often cited as the modern-day Dale Carnegie. Dale Carnegie is author of one of the most impactful books known as How to Win Friends and Influence People.
I’m amazed that in 2022 I still continue advising professional women on how important it is to build a professional network. Your professional network is the key cornerstone to your career advancement. Developing your network increases your visibility, offers access to resources, and connects you with informal networks and contacts to help you achieve your goals.
Your aim is to build long-term relationships, which involves meeting and getting to know your colleagues and sharing rather than taking. It is about forming trust and helping one another to reach each other’s goals. Regularly engaging with your colleagues and finding opportunities to assist them helps strengthen the relationship. By doing this, you sow the seed for reciprocal assistance when you need help to achieve your goals.
Let’s dive deeper into the roles of your network and the differences between them plus get some key tips on how to strategically build your network. Read on below.
Be Aware of Your Network
The first step to building a network is actually realizing and knowing you have a support network. Many professionals don’t realize that they have already developed relationships with work colleagues who support them. Typically, professionals know one or two colleagues that they can count on to support them with their jobs.
The depth of the help and support actually available to them is a resource that has been completely overlooked. They have already built relationships, but haven’t noticed the different kinds of support each person offers.
Identify the Roles in Your Network
That’s why I’ve outlined some roles in a professional network to help you realize and identify the different kinds of support each colleague offers. Here are ten different roles that most professionals will find in their professional network:
- Acquaintance: A person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend.
- Colleague: A person with whom one works in a profession or business.
- Peer: An individual who shares a similar status or background, such as education, skill set or age, or colleagues who share the same salary and work responsibilities.
- Supporter: A person/colleague who encourages and supports someone at work or in life.
- Cheerleader: An enthusiastic and vocal supporter of someone at work.
- Ambassador/Connector: Acts as a representative, promoter, and makes introductions for the person they support in the company, industry and/or community.
- Mentor: Act as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on, offering advice, support and guidance as requested.
- Associate: A colleague you work with on projects from another department at work.
- Champion: A person who fights on behalf of someone else or gives them a recommendation for a promotion or a new job.
- Sponsor: Gives feedback and advice, and also uses their influence with other senior executives to advocate for your promotion to ensure that you’re visible to key decision-makers or they have the authority to promote you directly.
In-Depth Look at The Roles
Let’s take a brief in-depth look at all the above roles.
The reason acquaintance is in the list is because they are a great way to help you land a new job. If you are job searching, a good strategy is to reach out to your acquaintances in your professional network directly and through Linkedin.
Studies show almost 28% of professionals hear about a new job from an acquaintance, known as a weak link in the science of social networks. Strong ties provide bonds, but weak ties serve as bridges providing more efficient access to new information. It is amazing to see who knows about a job opportunity and their willingness to share the details with you.
It is important to realize that a supporter can change over time and can have more than one role. For example, they can start as a colleague then become a supporter, then cheerleader, next ambassador and finally a champion or sponsor. Depending on their career advancement, your supporter could even become your boss or superior in the future.
Cheerleader and Ambassador/Connector
A cheerleader will speak about you, recognize the work you do and the results that you deliver. They will acknowledge you at a meeting, and recognize your input, insights or recommendations. They will mention the project that you are working on and what you have been doing to advance the work for your team to your boss. They will also mention your work to colleagues in different departments.
An ambassador/connector will talk about you, the work that you do and your results to other professionals or higher level management who they think should meet you. In addition, they will often make the introduction and open doors for you from their professional network in your company and industry.
You may be fortunate to have supporters who are both cheerleaders and ambassadors or connectors.
Champions and Sponsors
A champion identifies, coaches and encourages the strengths and skills of individual employees and provides needed expertise. They also make available opportunities for professional growth, access to resources, informal networks, and special projects.
Sponsors, on the other hand, make things happen by acting. They support individuals they believe in by publicly advocating for them, even bragging about their results when they are not in the room providing visibility. A sponsor has power and will use it for you. They may even directly promote you!
How to Start Strategically Building Your Network
Identifying who and what role each person play in your professional network is a great way to start building your network.
- Think about ten (10) people that you interact with most at work either virtually or face-to-face.
- Write out a list of their names then from their behaviour, deternine which role fits them the best and write the role next to their name.
- Look at your list of names and roles and think about what each role can offer.
- Write what they can offer next to the roles and names. For example, your champions are your job references, usually previous supervisors, bosses, superiors, executives, C-Suite or Board Members.
Remember that each relationship in your network should also be mutually beneficial. Also, write down how you can help or support each person in your list and reach out to them to let them know. You can also try creating a list of people who you support, cheer for, sponsor or champion and let them know.
Take a few minutes to look at your professional network at work or on Linkedin and identify what each person in your network offers. You’ll be surprised to see how much your colleagues or contacts have helped you already. Your professional network is an important and valuable asset in your career portfolio and should be strategically built in a way that is mutually beneficial.
If you are looking to professionally develop your team and their networking skills, request my signature presentation called Uncovering Your Secret Key to Success: Your Network for your team’s career development day.
As always, I’m here to support you in your career journey. If you need help developing your professional network list of contacts and figuring out their roles, please reach out and Book a Free Career Strategy Session.