Make Strategic Networking a Part of Your Career Development Plan: The Depth vs The Width of Your Network.

Updated on April 20th, 2023

September 28th 2021

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  • There is more than just one type of networking.

  • In this article, we will introduce two main types of networking strategies — vertical versus horizontal networking — and explain why each one of them is equally important while building a career.

  • The vertical (or, in-depth) network is useful when it comes to job search, building long-lasting business relations, or finding mental support.

  • The horizontal (in, in-width) network is useful when it comes to seeking information, leads, outsourcing tasks, or building impact with your work.

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

Have you ever thought to yourself: “I have such a broad network and so many contacts, yet, for some reason, I still cannot find a job? Why is that? Am I asking around for opportunities, while no one gets back to me with proposals? Or perhaps, no one it there to open doors and create new career options for me?

What did go wrong here? Are my contacts in all the wrong places? Why did my friend — who is introverted and quiet — get their new job, while I didn’t? What mistakes in my career development have I made?”

The lack of functional networking strategies is a common problem in professional development today. The issue is: the number of your contacts isn’t the main factor that leads to good results in your strategic networking efforts. It is all about adjusting your strategy to your personal situation.

In this article, we will introduce two main types of networking strategies and explain why each one of them is equally important while building a career.

Would you like to learn more strategies for increasing your social capital as a professional, becoming a linchpin in your environment, and landing great jobs?

To receive further intensive training oriented toward discovering your identity as a professional and learning effective strategies for landing great jobs, please join us at our intensive online career mastery workshops! Please find all the information and registration links HERE.

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

There are two main networking strategies. Namely, you can either network horizontally or vertically. A horizontal networking strategy means increasing the width of your network by gaining multiple (casual) professional contacts. These contacts can be people whom you only met once in the course of your career: at some event or on travel.

Or, people in your extended network: you have common contacts or you met via social media. They recognize your name, your personal mission and your expertise. And yet, you haven’t gone through any projects together, therefore, they didn’t experience working with you in practice.

On the contrary, a vertical networking strategy means increasing the depth of your network by building a number of close bonds with people, either in your private or professional life. The term “vertical” has nothing to do with professional dependencies such as employer-employee relations but rather, it relates to the depth of mutual knowledge and trust. “Vertical” means “deep” or “close.”

In practice, building bonds in professional life happens via engaging in common professional projects, spending time together, advising and mentoring each other, supporting each other regularly, chatting not only about projects but also failures and values, and sending personalized wishes for Christmas and New Year’s, etc.

Of course, it often so happens that you grow in different directions. After twenty years of a professional 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!

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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 our circle 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 shallow and has limited utility.

At the same time, together with the development of the online communities, we get fewer and fewer options to build deep networks. Since the breakout of the corona crisis, meeting people close to us in person has become harder than ever. 

Relations have loosened and it has become a standard to dodge responding to emails. 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 to ask around for jobs or recommend you for a job in their network, what do you really ask for? Well, it is not only about taking the time to ask around. While making you this favor, 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.

Namely, 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 bother to answer your message and take care of your professional development.

Lateral Connections: When Your Networking Strategies Go Sideways.

One important thing to remember is that strategic networking is a form of a game. While in private life treating every contact as a calculated act of social exchange is not welcome, in professional life you need to always keep your long-term goals in mind. For this reason, it is good to keep track of who belongs to your vertical versus horizontal network and try to avoid lateral connections

What we mean by that is contacts that are somewhat in between vertical and horizontal directions: casual contacts that you use to spend a lot of your precious time on, but they never become deep enough to help you in need. 

For instance, if you join Friday Afternoon Drinks every Friday after working hours and invest a few hours to chitchat with your colleagues, you might think that you build real contacts over time. And yet, these contacts might turn out to be too superficial when it comes to helping you in critical situations.

It is better to minimize the amount of time spent per person when it comes to horizontal connections and maximize the time per person when it comes to vertical connections. In this way, you will avoid the grey zone in between and stop wasting your precious time on people whom you cannot count on.

The Biggest Mistake Job Hunters Make When It Comes To Strategic Networking.

So, why do some people have a huge problem looking for jobs despite being experts in the field, and having lots of coworkers and collaborators? Well, it is because they misunderstand what vertical network is.

There is a great difference between a coworker and a real contact. You might be working with someone for years and years, only to discover that they don’t care about your professional career at all and won’t move a finger for you. Or, they will even put logs to your feet instead.

So, when does your coworker become a real contact? You can count them in at a point when they start mentoring you. And, it is better to have 5 real mentors than 50 colleagues who don’t care about your professional development.

And as a matter of fact, every successful person needs vertical network in their close environment. Even influencers who seemingly can live of from their following, usually have a network of mutual support behind the scenes. 

They closely collaborate with other influencers, visit each other’s social media, recommend each other’s content, mentor each other in private. In the long term, building a career without a vertical network is almost impossible.

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The Effectiveness of Your Networking Strategy Depends on Your Purpose.

The choice of the optimal professional networking strategy should depend on your local working environment. In liquid professional circles in which the promotion rules are not clearly defined, such as the business circles or freelancing, horizontal networking strategy usually works well. 

Horizontal networking strategy, namely creating a broad network of contacts is beneficial for finding things and people, for example, when:

1. You need to find the right people.

For instance, when you are an employer in the search for a new member for your team,

2. You need to outsource part of your work.

For example, find subcontractors, interns, collaborators. Or, you need to 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 keep in touch with news in your field.

For example, learn the news about the current events or the upcoming changes in legislation,

4. You look for inspiration.

Search for new, interesting concepts and ideas, including career development strategies,

5. You need to build impact with your work.

For this purpose, you need to find an audience for your content or followers whom your message might help.

On the other hand, in steady working environments, where there is some hierarchy and structure (such as for instance, in a corporate career or in an academic career), vertical networking strategy usually works better than horizontal networking strategy.

Vertical networking strategy is beneficial for finding support, for example when:

1. You need help with finding a job.

You seek personal recommendations looking for new opportunities,

2. You have a difficult living situation and need help.

For example, you need to crush at someone’s couch for a few weeks or borrow cash from someone,

3. You need to confess to someone.

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 set a business partnership…

…Or a long-lasting project such as a research consortium. Such a relation is similarly important as marriage (as described in our article “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 strategies is more important? Well, as mentioned before, it depends on your profession and the stage of your professional career.

As a rule of thumb, at the early stages of your career path, you will need more depth in your network, as you will need a lot of help to put your career on the right track and gain safety and freedom in your life.

However, at the advanced stages of your career, you will need more width, as you will need to build impact with your work and propagate your message to a wider audience.

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How You Can Build a Professional Network More Effectively.

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

1. What are the factors for success in my working environment?

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

2. How many people do I effectively need to build strong bonds with, to get 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. As a rule of thumb, it is better to focus on building life-long bonds with 20 people closest to you rather than develop 100 disposable 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 fewer people around whom you can be confident about than a hundred who might potentially fall to support you when you are in a need.

So, take time to nourish those contacts through common experiences, mutual care, birthday wishes, and 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 of 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 task, 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 in the loop by exchanging emails and quick text and voice messages, and general social media activity. You might reserve, for example, 15 or 30 minutes per day for maintaining and building 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 the solitude and void that often comes to those whose main way of strategic networking is via building horizontal networks. Therefore, it is better to reserve blocks of time to build your vertical network, such as, for example, one afternoon, or 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 strategic 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 smiles on their faces, through the thick and thin. Have some good laughs together! Good laughter is 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 a 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 the network will never dry out.

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More Networking Advice.

Remember that networking is only one of the ways of building a career. If you are looking for your next job, it is optimal to diversify your efforts between networking, active job applications, and passive job search via building social media presence, for instance via building a comprehensive LinkedIn profile.

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And what to do if your networking strategies seem to fail? Remember that there are, in fact, multiple tiers to networking; to be successful in the long run, you need to cover all of them as they are equally important for creating and maintaining a functional network.

And as a matter of fact, most people undervalue the importance of mesoscale networking. They regularly attend social media to build the macroscale network, and meet in person with selected individuals to network in macroscale. But what is truly crucial is to also be a part of local and online communities and self-help groups who share similar interests and exchange information in a curated way.

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Of course, the strategies introduced in this article are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to efficient networking strategies. For other networking tips, you can check out, for instance, the book “Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection” by prof. Marissa King.

Our other articles on this topic may also be helpful: “10 Good Reasons To Build Efficient Networking Strategies and Treat Networking as a Mindset” and “Top 11 Rules For Effective Networking on LinkedIn“.  

Conclusion: Strategic Networking As a Part of Your Career Development Plan.

What is your personal strategy for building networks? Do you invest time and effort in building your horizontal or 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 an active effort into it?

Please share with us, and visit our YouTube channel where we discuss all the career-related affairs!

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Please cite as:

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

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