September 28th, 2021 | Make Networking a Part of Your Career Development Plan: The Depth vs The Width of Your Network

strategic networking career development strategies

Networking As an Integral Part of Your Career Development Plan: There Is More Than Just One Way To Network!

Have you ever thought to yourself: “Why do I have such a broad network and so many contacts, yet, for some reason I still cannot find a job? Asking around for opportunities, and no one gets back to me with proposals? Does no one open doors for me and create new career options for me? What did go wrong here? Do I have contacts in all the wrong places? Why did my friend — who is introverted and closed for people — get the next job, and I didn’t?” What mistakes in career development have I made?

Lack of functional networking strategies is a common problem in professional development. The issue is: the number of your contacts is, indeed, not the main factor that decides the quality and results of your networking efforts. It is all about adjusting your strategy to your personal situation.

The Width vs the Depth of Your Network As an Important Fact In Your Professional Development Strategy

There are two main types of networking. Namely, you can either network horizontally or vertically. Horizontal networking means increasing the width of your network by gaining several (casual) professional contacts. These are often people whom you only met once in the course of your career. They recognize your name and expertise, yet, you haven’t gone through any projects together and so they don’t know how it feels to work with you in practice.

On the contrary, vertical networking means increasing the depth of your network by building a number of close bonds with people, either in your private or professional life. In practice, building bonds happens via engaging in common professional projects, spending time together, advising each other, talking regularly, chatting not only about projects but also failures and values, sending wishes for Christmas and New Year’s, etc.

Of course, it often so happens that you grow in different directions and after twenty years of a friendship, all of a sudden you discover that you no longer have common topics. Your professional development progresses in different directions and you go your separate ways. We change over time, and our bonds with people also morph and change accordingly. However, the purpose of this professional networking strategy is to develop a safety net at each point in life — a professional environment of people whom we know well and who know us.

Mind also that, according to the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, we are physically incapable of having more than about 150 close contacts around us. Since building bonds takes a lot of time and effort, starting new friendships will automatically mean that some of the former contacts will get dusty. On the good side of things, building bonds is pleasant and much more rewarding than building a shallow, horizontal network!

Creating Functional Career Development Strategies: Why Wide Yet Shallow Networks Don’t Work Well While Searching For Jobs

Today’s world prompts us to build wide but shallow networks in our professional development. We regularly lurk at LinkedIn and other social media and check our number of followers. We invite new people to friends after every event we participate in. We feel accomplished every time we see an extensive number of likes under our update on social media. It gives us a feeling that we are building a network. And indeed, we do become more visible and build some form of a network this way. However, it is wide but shallow.

At the same time, we have fewer and fewer options to build deep networks. Since the breakout of the corona crisis, it has become even harder to meet with the people close to us. Relations have loosened and it has become a standard no to answer emails at all. However, if you are in the process of looking for new career options, you need to take care of the depth of your network — even if it is hard and requires extra effort. Here is why.

While asking a friend about job opportunities, and asking them to recommend you for jobs in their network, what do you really ask for? Well, it is not only about taking the time to ask around. While doing this service for you, they will also need to get out of their comfort zone for you! And, that’s much more to ask for than just a few phone calls.

Your friend will need to use their own personal brand and connections built over the years to convince their employer or their coworkers that you are worth inviting for a job interview and that you are a competitive candidate for the job. They need to use the trust that they managed to build throughout their professional careers. Therefore, if you ask around for job opportunities, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if someone whom you spoke with just once in your life, or someone with whom you last spoke twenty years ago, won’t answer your message and ask around for career options for you.

The Effectiveness of Your Networking Strategy Depends on Your Work Environment

The choice of the optimal professional networking strategy should depend on your working environment. In liquid professional circles in which the promotion rules are not clearly defined, such as the business circles or freelancing, horizontal networking usually works well. Creating a broad network of contacts is beneficial for finding things and people, e.g., when:

1. You need to find the right people, e.g., when you are an employer in the search for a new member for your team,

2. You need to outsource some part of your work, e.g., find subcontractors, interns, collaborators, or find some information on how you might potentially automatize your work or modify your projects so that you can avoid the associated investment and cost,

3. You need to find information, e.g., learn the news about the upcoming changes in the tax system,

4. You look for inspiration, and new, interesting concepts and ideas,

5. You need to build impact with your work, e.g., find an audience for your content or followers whom your message might help.

On the other hand, in steady working environments, namely, whenever there is some hierarchy and structure (such as e.g., in a corporate career or in an academic career), vertical networking often works better. Vertical networking is beneficial for finding support, e.g., when:

1. You need help with finding a job, and seek personal recommendations,

2. You have a difficult living situation and need some help, e.g., you need to crush at someone’s couch for a few weeks,

3. You need to open up and talk about your deepest and darkest secrets, or you need someone to analyze a complex problem with you,

4. You need to borrow money from someone,

5. You need to set a business partnership or a long-lasting project (such as a research consortium), which is, to some extent, as important as marriage (as also described in the blog post “Business Development Responsibilities: Looking for a Co-founder? Read This Before You Make Your Choice.”

Of course, regardless of your professional situation, it is a perfect scenario to develop both types of a network at a time. But, it is hard to find enough time to invest in both networks to the same extent! So, which one of the above types of networking is more important? Well, it depends on your profession and the stage of your professional career.

As a rule of thumb, at the early stages of your career, you will need more depth (as you will need a lot of help to put your career on the right track and gain safety and freedom in your life) and at the late stages, you will need more width (as you will need to build impact with your work, and propagate your message to a wide audience).

How You Can Build a Professional Network More Effectively

So, how can you become an efficient network builder and make sure that your network serves the purpose? You will need to ask yourself a few questions:

What are the factors for success in my working environment?

In what way do successful individuals network? Which strategies can I adapt or follow?

How many people do I effectively need to build strong bonds with, to have a feeling that I have a safety net around me?

Is it 15 people? 30? 150? Perhaps you don’t need as many people as you think you need, and it is better to focus on building life-long bonds with 20 people closest to you rather than try to get to 100 close contacts.

Remember that close contact means someone who would get out of their comfort zone and take a personal risk to help you. Better to have a few people around whom you can be certain about than a hundred who might potentially fall to support you when you are in a need. Nourish those contacts through common experiences, caring about them, birthday wishes, actively reaching out. Build a bond over the years.

3. How many people recognize me and are a part of my broad network?

How many people know me by name, know what I do for a living, and trust that I am good at what I do? How many people do I need to know me from this site, and where can I find these people? As Kevin Kelly famously said, as a content creator, you only need 1,000 true fans to be able to live off from what you do rather than millions as it might seem at first.

4. How can I systematically find time during the working week for building my network?

Building bonds with other people is one of these aspects of life that Eisenhower would call “important, not urgent.” To successfully complete this type of tasks, you will need to create a schedule for yourself and keep disciplined.

Building a horizontal network takes a little bit of effort every day. You need to stay active and involved by exchanging emails and quick text and voice messages, and general social media activity. You might reserve, e.g., 15 or 30 minutes per day for maintaining your horizontal network.

On the contrary, building vertical networks takes a lot of time and effort. While building your vertical network, you might experience dopamine shots less often than building horizontal networks. However, it is also much more rewarding — you won’t experience solitude and void that often comes to those whose main way of networking is via building horizontal networks. Therefore, it is better to reserve blocks of time to build your vertical network, such as, e.g., one afternoon, or even one day per week.

5. How can I find the right motivation to actively network — especially if everyone else out there is apathetic and resigned these days?

We often feel discouraged from networking when we treat it as a necessary duty. There are two ways around it. Firstly, you can also think about your network as a source of fun. Reach out to people who always have smile on their faces, through the thick and thin. Have some good laughter together! Good laughter in often a start to a professional collaboration! Secondly, think about all those people who can potentially need your help at the moment. Even if you are in hard situation, there is always someone out there whose day is even worse than yours. And, you will feel better about yourself as well! you keep on asking yourself, “Whom can I help today?”, your motivation to network will never dry out.

Conclusion

What is your personal strategy for building networks? Do you primarily invest time and effort in building your horizontal or in your vertical network? How much time do you spend on this every week? Does it come naturally to you, or rather, do you need to put active effort in it? Please share with us, and also visit our YouTube channel where we discuss all the career-related affairs!

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, September, 28th). Make Networking a Part of Your Career Development Plan: The Depth vs The Width of Your Network. Retrieved from http://ontologyofvalue.com/make-strategic-networking-a-part-of-your-career-development-plan-the-depth-vs-the-width-of-your-network/ 

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