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From Forbes Magazine:

We’ve all heard the advice that networking is important for our careers. And regardless of your profession, your industry or demographic, the message is loud and clear. If you want to be successful, you need to spend time networking. It’s great advice. But the critical missing piece to this advice is exactly how to network.

There’s an old adage that if you throw spaghetti against the wall and it sticks, the pasta is done. Over the years, this phrase has evolved to mean that when you throw enough activity or ideas at a situation or problem, eventually something will stick; eventually you will find the answer. So when we’re told we need to network to help us be successful, those of us who are ambitious, tackle the problem with this approach. We throw a lot of activity at the issue and hope for the best. We go to lots of networking events and conferences, collect and hand out hundreds of business cards. We establish an online presence and build a large group of followers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t result in the type of network that supports our career advancement. It has no purpose or intention.

It takes a village to have a successful career; people who provide you with information, connect you to others, help you get your job done, advocate for you, mentor, guide, and sponsor you. And to build this type of network, your networking activity needs to be strategic. To create the type of network that supports your ambition, your efforts must be intentional and purposeful.

So, how do you create a strategic network?

Start with your career goal. What are you hoping to achieve in the next 3-5 years? Then ask yourself, who do you know and who do you need to know to help you reach that goal.

Understand your value proposition. How does your work contribute to positive business outcomes? This value proposition positions you as credible and helps you build influence. Your value proposition helps you create mutually beneficial relationships because you understand how you can help others. Once you get how you can help others, you eliminate the limiting belief that your networking activity is self-serving.

Build mutually beneficial relationships. As you meet people, ask them open-ended questions about their work. What are they working on? What are some of their current challenges? If there an opportunity for you to help by connecting them to a resource or guide them based on your value proposition and/or experience? This is how you create strong relationships.

Find allies and champions. A strong network supports and advocates for you. It helps you sell your ideas across the organization, promotes you for new opportunities. Once you make connections and offer to help others achieve their goals, your contacts will respond in kind when you have a need.

Be strategic. Be thoughtful about who is in your network and the best way to connect with these people. Spend your time wisely by focusing on these relationships and nurturing them over time. Be deliberate about what organizations and events you attend to help you connect with potential contacts. And take action!

Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, CEC,  is an executive coach, professional speaker, and author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead. She helps women successfully navigate the complexities of the workplace to realize their ambition.

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