How to Build Your Professional Relationships

Career Myths and Mysteries

By Marti Benjamin, MBA

Certified Career Management Coach

Professional Certified Coach

Certified Professional Résumé Writer

The time to build your professional relationships is long before you need them to work for you. And if you missed that opportunity, the next best time is now!

Coaching clients often say they’ve been too busy working in their current (or last) position to take the time to build their professional network. Now that they want to change careers or land a great new position, their relationships are concentrated entirely within their most current employer. It’s understandable that work-life today can consume so much time and energy that there’s little left for building the future, but that focus on the short-term is a costly mistake.

Include relationship development in your professional life. It’s not an extra-curricular activity for your spare time; it’s your survival plan. The Great Recession taught many suddenly unemployed a harsh lesson about the value of a network. My colleagues and I estimate that about 80% of open positions are never advertised, but filled through network referrals. This is particularly true of technical and professional positions where the hiring manager wants to increase the odds of a successful hire by accessing additional information about candidates and their prior performance. Candidates who have neglected their network development suffer a disadvantage in this environment.

Give First

A good place to start building a strong network of supporters is within your industry. Join appropriate professional associations and participate actively. Help the organization meet its goals by volunteering your time and talent. Your effort will raise your visibility and your credibility as others see you’re willing to contribute to the overall good of the group.

You can also contribute content and assistance through discussion groups on LinkedIn or professional associations. Share your expertise and that of others you come across. Forward (or post) articles and sources of useful data. This isn’t about making yourself the expert as much as showing that you’re actively engaged in learning and developing yourself and your profession. You don’t have to write original content to provide value. (Although if you do, be sure to share it with those who can use it.) You can be the connector—the one who connects others to the people and sources they need to succeed.

Before you ask your professional relationships to do you a favor, make sure you’ve given generously to show your commitment.

Not all Relationships are the Same

I think of professional relationships as a series of concentric circles. At the center are your allies, those 10 – 20 people who recognize your needs and offer assistance without prompting. Your allies would see a possibility, maybe even before you do, and step up to offer an introduction, connection, suggestion or recommendation. Identify your allies and maintain regular contact with them, offering your support frequently.

The next tier of the concentric circles is comprised of your advocates, those with whom you can easily pick up the phone or send a text and they’ll be willing and available to offer whatever help they can. People may move into the advocate tier for a time and then move out again, depending on your frequency of contact, and how much you’re able to add value to their network. Think strategically about which advocates you want to nurture and maintain relationships with over the long-term.

The third tier—the outermost of the concentric circles—is your acquaintances. These are the people you know well enough to greet at a trade show and talk with at a mixer or social event. You likely know something of their professional reputation and them of yours, but you don’t have a close personal or professional relationship. They’re good sources for general industry or company information but they’re unlikely to take action on your part or advocate specifically for you.

Nurture your Network

Consider your professional relationships to be living organisms that require nutrients and light. Your allies need more attention than your acquaintances, in general. If you want to move an acquaintance into an advocate position, increase the value you provide to that individual and contact him/her more often.

Your network is dynamic, always shifting and changing, as your and your contact’s needs change. Be pro-active, define your career direction and create your career action plan. With your path defined, you’ll be in a better position to anticipate what information, support and connections you’ll need and what you have to offer to build reciprocal professional relationships.

If you need help in planning your career direction and defining your professional network strategy, contact me to learn how career coaching can support you in developing your plans.

Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her career and business coaching practice. While enjoying the best possible job in the world for herself, she guides her clients to find the work that fits them perfectly. Her systems have led clients from fed-up and frustrated to fulfilled in their work-life.,


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