Effectively building your professional network from the ground up, requires creating, building, and maintaining authentic relationships
November 2, 2018
Sometimes figuring out your path in a sector you’ve never been in, had an example of, or experienced before, can be overwhelming. I recently had an encounter with a young man on the cusp of high school graduation, and whom I’ve know from over 5 years now, about how he can do what he dreams of doing when he has never had an example chartered for him on how it is done. This encounter made me reflect on how I have grown from a young 17 year old growing up in the country side of St. Thomas in Barbados, surrounded by goats, chickens, sheep, etc., to trudging through the JFK airport in the dead of winter, to who I am now- someone who is walking in purpose, doing the work that she loves, and who is passionate about working with youth, especially the youth that are often thrown to the side, written off, overlooked, dismissed, disregarded, or forgotten.
This young man could easily and categorically be considered “at risk.” Yet, he decided to reach out to me, for guidance, direction, and help. Humbled and honored that he chose to admit his vulnerability, frustration, and confusion to me, I did not nor do I take his trust lightly. As a result of this encounter, it really made me stop, pause, and think- what are the tools that are needed to build relationships, to expand your network, and to know who to reach out to when you need a little support, help, direction, or guidance, when you literally have no one around you who has been to where you aspire to be?
Given my experience interacting with children, youth, and adults professionally, and with navigating equally amazing and challenging relationships, I have found that having to self-direct your arrival to a destination that you have never traveled to before does not need to be a solo trip. It may require some vulnerability on your end (stepping out of your comfort zone), but the rewards are greater than your discomfort. The following relationship and network building techniques are recommended:
- Be authentic- be unapologetically yourself and who you are as a person, character and personality-wise
- Be amicable– be friendly, personable, and pleasant…make people want to be around you
- Want/need nothing initially- your first encounter or interaction should not be an “ask.” No one wants to feel like they’re being used or that the sole purpose of you interacting with them is because you want/need something. Even if that is the case, being overt about it is distasteful and a sure fire way to damage a relationship or for ties to be severed.
- Be the “least intelligent” in your network- step out of EVERY comfort zone socially, economically, even ethnically; surround yourself with people who are where you want to be so you can learn, grow, and be challenged to “level up,” (be the best version of yourself possible) while staying true to who you are at your core, so you can expand your reach and network, and to be one step closer to your dreams/goals
- Be reliable- build a reputation of being a man and woman of your word, say what you mean and mean what you say
- Be faithful- do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it, and do it well. When people know you are faithful in the small and uneventful stuff, it shows them that you are ready to do the same with the bigger stuff.
- Be valuable- there is value inherent in every human being but, within the professional and networking realm, it means to be able to bring something “to the table;” relationships within a network should be reciprocal…you add and can offer some kind of value and they can do the same in return. At some point, whether now or in the future, that value may be called upon and so it is crucial that you be willing to pour into someone else’s cup because some day you may need them to do the same and pour into yours.
Networking is easy. Networking is hard. Networking is uncomfortable. Networking is seamless. Networking is scary, nerve wrecking, and exciting. It can be an experience that is on polar opposite ends of your personality spectrum. But, at the core of networking, is building authentic relationships with people who you can add value to, and who can add value to you. Step out of your comfort zone. Initiate that conversation, that meeting, that relationship, send that text, email, organize that social and/or professional event. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. Want something different (job, life, finances, etc.)? It’s time to do something different. Be bold. Get uncomfortable so you can grow…today.