Professional Networking is best played as a Long Game

By Danna Redmond

Building your professional network

Networking can be viewed as a long game. I am not an avid golfer but I love the analogy of networking like a golf game. Golfers need to be good at the long game. The long drives that put them on the green so they can sink the ball. In networking, you should maintain your network in the times when you don’t necessarily “need” to so that when you do need help or assistance, you will already be “on the green” to make that shot.   

Characteristics of great networkers

The most effective networkers I know are people who stay engaged with, and helping, the people in their network so when the time comes to ask for a little help or assistance their network is already in place and willing to lend a hand. Networking is not something that you do once or twice but rather an ongoing relationship to nuture on a consistent basis.   

Rebuilding your professional network

If you are in a place where you have gotten out of touch with your professional network, don’t fret. Today is a great day to start rebuilding and reconnecting. Remember networking is about building and maintaining personal relationships. Start by making a list of people you have worked with previously, volunteered with and met at conferences. Then look them up on LinkedIn or other industry related sources to see where they are now and see if there is a connection you can make or something of value you can provide for them. Next, make a prioritized list of who you want to reach out to first and start connecting.

How to reconnect with your network

Need some ideas for how to reach out to build your professional network? Is there an article that you just read that might be relevant for them? Forward the article with a little note that says why you thought they might find it interesting. Have they recently had a job change or been in the news lately or celebrated a milestone? These are great opportunities to open the door to reconnecting. If it has been a while since you have been in touch, acknowledge that and say that you are interested in hearing what they are doing now. Reaching out with genuine interest in the other person is very important and will help the other person feel more at ease.

A networking success

I have seen this work for me and led to an incredible new opportunity that I hadn’t planned on. A few years ago, I saw that a former colleague had taken on a new role. I wrote a quick congratulatory note and sent it off noting that we hadn’t seen each other in a while but I was thrilled to see she had a great new role. We did reconnect over a coffee and she was able to tell me all about her new role and new team and we were about catch up on our professional lives.   A few months later this colleague contacted me to stay that there was a new role on her team that she thought I would be great for – I was perfectly happy in my current role but since I trusted her I decided to learn more about the role. This eventually led to me making a career change and jumping into an entirely different type of role. It was a happy but unintended consequence of sending off one “congratulations” email. 

Creating a networking plan

With everyone’s busy schedules it is important to think about what form you want (or need) your connection points to take – can just a few light emails to touch base be good enough for right now? How about offering to do a touch base over the phone? Or are both in the same city and you can offer to meet up for a coffee or after dinner drinks? In thinking about the long game of networking, be sure you are keeping the other person in mind and how best to fit into their schedule. A couple of pointed email exchanges is better than never being able to connect because you are holding out for an in-person meeting. If you keep the focus on the person you are connecting with and what they might benefit from reconnecting with you, you will have an easier time of reconnecting.   

Networking is about building relationships

Remember you are never done building your professional network. It is easier to maintain and nurture relationships that you have already built than start over from scratch. Give yourself the time to maintain the connections you have while you look to grow or strengthen others. When you feel like you don’t have time to network because you think you don’t need anything right now, remember the “long game”.