Dear Coach Joan,
After two menial jobs after college, I have finally landed an entry level position at a large company and this should put me on the professional track. I was told to actively network to find new opportunities and make helpful professional connections. But I really don’t know how to get started. After three months, my network is limited to my manager and the four other people on my team. How do I get to know others at the company?
Thank you for any advice. I have been patient so far, paying my dues at two boring jobs, and now I really want to get ahead and use my talents.
Congratulations on landing a job that looks like there’s a path to advancement! And now you want to know how to best find and create opportunities. Building a strong network is the way! (In addition to doing excellent work, too, naturally.) The fact that you reached out to a seasoned career coach for advice, shows me that you know how to formulate the questions and you directed them at the the appropriate resource to get the information you need. Good going!
OK, here are the top four strategies I suggest you employ in your networking efforts at your new company. These are proven moves that have worked for other ambitious people. Try them out for yourself:
- The Training Department: Discuss with your manage that you are ambitious and would like to develop professional skills. Ask him or her for some examples of skills that would be helpful in putting you on track for advancement. They would be things like, presentation skills, management skills or technical skills in your particular area. Most large companies have a training department. Ask your manager for approval to sign up for classes. In those classes you will meet other aspiring employees, typically from across the company. Get to know them. Make friends, make lunch dates. Find out more about what they do. The more colleagues and friends you have in your company, the more influencers you have in making recommendations for you to move forward. They might also know about new job openings before they are posted. By taking classes with other employees you are both building skills and growing your network.
- Informational Interviews with other Managers in the Company: Again, let your manager know that you are looking to become better acquainted with the various departments, functions and people in the company. Ask her or him to suggest departments and manager who might be good for you to get to know. Develop a list of some thoughtful questions to show you have done your research and really want to understand more. These managers will be impressed with your initiative. Start with departments who work more closely with your functional area.
- All -Employee Company Meetings: Many companies have what is called All-Hands Meetings. That is where all employees are called together to listen to updates and new plans from the upper management. Smart employees make themselves visible at these meetings by asking smart questions. This way you get the visibility of the upper management folks and can then follow up with a 1:1 to get to know them better. Expand your network to high levels in the company!
- Organized Company Activities:These can range from athletic teams to Toastmasters (to learn public speaking skills) to lunch time yoga, exercise and walking groups. Join groups that interest you. When I was a manager I always asked my employees about their extra curricular interests and often employees would team up to play tennis, form book clubs and more. Yes, don’t overlook the relationships you can build with the members of your own department. We often think we know them well just by working together, but by enjoying outside activities together you can build trust and further the relationships.
- Be friendly! Say hello to other employees while walking in the halls at work, getting on the elevator, eating in the cafeteria! Be opportunistically friendly and helpful. Many serendipitous career opportunities occur because employees just happen to run into one another and start conversation. Many companies have beer busts or ping pong tables or outdoor seating to encourage friendliness and casual meet ups that can turn into business and career opportunities! I’ve had clients who’ve met their future manager when making small talk in the parking lot! I always tell clients: Readiness + Opportunity = Success!! Always be ready for opportunity!!
Yes, Amy, in addition to doing careful, thorough and timely, creative work, you need to reach out to get to know people in your company. Through making friends and colleagues you will be privy to important happenings, new events, and new job opportunities. Additionally, it is a lot more fun and rewarding to work in a place where you have a strong network.
Onward in your network building and career development, Amy!