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Building a Powerful Network

What makes a good network? Is it a small and select group that we have strong bonds with, or a huge group of hundreds of people we barely know/contact with?

Few other people can better give us insights into professional networking than Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn.  We read in Fortune/CNNMonday a rather long piece of an excerpt of the book, The Startup of You, by Reid Hoffman.  We wanted to share a quick summary with you of what we learned from this great article.

How to Build Real Relationships

Reid Hoffman told us that building a genuine relationship depends on at least two abilities. The first is seeing the world from another person’s perspective.  The second ability is being able to think about how you can collaborate with and help the other person rather than thinking about what you can get.  These tips point us to how to build a strong network as follows.

Networking is a Two-Way Street

Networking is not just about what you can get – it is what two people can do for each other. Reid Hoffman states that, when networking, think about how you can collaborate with and help the other person rather than thinking about what you can get.

In the article, this finding from a study on negotiation was cited: a key difference between skilled and average negotiators was the time spent searching for shared interests and asking questions of the other person.  What this means is that, when we meet and network with someone, we should ask questions, get to know the person and see what we can do for each other.

Strengthen Your Alliances

One of the most important professional relationships you have is with your close allies. Your close allies are the people who you would go out of your way to help and vice versa. They are the people you make a sacrifice for because you want to help a friend. They are also someone who you can count on in a bind. These alliances are a crucial part of any network.

Variety Matters

In addition to having close allies, form a circle of weak ties. Weak ties are people are co-workers, old classmates, people you meet at conferences etc. – people with whom you have spent low amounts of low-intensity time but with whom you’re still friendly. When forming this circle of weak ties, you are creating a diversified network.  Prioritize diversity in order to broaden the overall reach of your network.

As cited in this article, weak ties in a career context were formally researched in 1973, when sociologist Mark Granovetter asked a random sample of professionals how they had found their new job. It turns out that 82% of them found their position through a contact they saw only occasionally or rarely. In other words, the contacts who referred jobs were “weak ties.”

What a Good Network Looks like

A strong network will be composed of narrow/deep connections (people you interact with daily) and wide/shallow connections (people who diversify your network). You can use your deep connections to meet and widen your shallow connections. By using both groups you strengthen your network and put more tools at your disposal.

Reid’s Rules

Here is the most important part:

  • In the next day: Look at your calendar for the past six months and identify the five people you spend the most time with — are you happy with their influence on you?
  • In the next week: Introduce two people who do not know each other but ought to. Then think about a challenge you face and ask for an introduction to a connection in your network who could help.  Imagine you got laid off from your job today. Who are the 10 people you’d e-mail for advice? Don’t wait — invest in those relationships now.
  • In the next month: Identify a weaker tie with whom you’d like to build an alliance. Help him by giving him a small gift — forward an article or job posting.

The Key to Networking

Your capabilities and potential get magnified exponentially by an active, up-to-date network.  Relationships are living, breathing things. Feed, nurture, and care about them; they grow. Neglect them; they die. If you want to have a strong network, make a commitment to constantly invest in your relationships with people in your network.

Hope you enjoy Reid Hoffman’s advice as much as we have.  Now it’s time to put them into practice.  Happy network building!

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