Networking & Mentoring Playbook

Networking and Mentoring Playbook

At the start of Episode 1: Networking and Mentoring, we referenced an article that Maryam posted on Linkedin that suggested a high percentage of more senior folks find their jobs through networks. This, and other conversations the four of us were having at the time, got us thinking about what our own networks look like, how we approach and maintain them, how each of our individual personalities might impact the way we tap into our networks, the value of mentor/mentee relationships, and what we could learn from each other on all these topics.

Here are our “Top Plays” related to networking:

  1. Networking is simply about relationships: creating, maintaining, nurturing. We do that naturally, and can be even more intentional about it. Think about those professional relationships that give you energy and actively seek them out.
  2. There seems to be a limit to the number of people you can have meaningful interactions with (Dunbar’s number). In fact, Spotify organized their business around that philosophy. And yet, many of us have 500+ contacts in our LinkedIn networks, hundreds of Facebook friends, and hundreds or thousands of Twitter followers. Some of us have different networks for different purposes. Even those of us who have fuzzier boundaries, think of bucketing our networks, or grouping them.  
  3. We’re all connected, we just haven’t discovered how yet. Online tools like LinkedIn allow us to explore those connections, and having a known person in common can seed conversations. When applying for a job or looking to solve a business problem in a specific areas, use LinkedIn to “see all employees” of a company, and browse what connections you have. If no 1st level connections, ask one of your 2nd level connections for an introduction. In general, people like to be of service and will be happy to connect their friends and colleagues!
  4. Set aside time to do networking, and think about ways in which you can contribute and not just take. Carve out an hour a week. Think about ways in which you can contribute to a network and not just take. Post articles, send notes of congratulations for job changes or mentions in the press, wish colleagues a happy birthday or happy work anniversary. Related tip: set aside time to have random meetings with no agenda. Some of your best ideas might surface, but at the very least, you’re spending quality time with a colleague, developing a relationship.
  5. Over time, your online networking leaves a footprint that allows others to form opinions of us. When we post articles, we have discovered that the number of views that we get on our profiles picks up. People are interested in what you know and the more you do that, the more people will identify with you.
  6. Use your network to reach out to trusted advisors asking questions “didn’t you do this at xyz company”. If you’re not comfortable reaching out, start with a small group of trusted advisers, even tell them it’s hard for you to reach out but that you know they have expertise in a certain area. People like to be asked for help and like to be seen as a valuable source of knowledge.
  7. Some of us take to networking more naturally than others. Introverts have their own unique challenges. It’s hard to talk to someone without having a reason to talk them, which means it feels like you’re always asking for something and sense it’s hard to ask for things, you don’t. Pick one or two trusted advisors who can help you push beyond this comfort zone.
  8. Networking can encourage you to do things you wouldn’t do on your own. Go to regional events like TechCrunch, or the equivalent in your industry. Volunteer with organizations. Get involved with coworking.
  9. Create networks if none exist for you. Lori Asburry led a LeanIn circle at Appirio, and then brought LeanIn to her current hometown of Huntsville, Alabama in order to expand her local network. But creating those networks doesn’t have to start around a professional idea. Andrea is passionate about fitness and has naturally tapped into her triathlon community to develop friendships which then have occasionally lead to professional networking. One such example: hearing about a women’s leadership conference on one of her long runs, and then attending the event with a fellow triathalete.
  10. Evaluate the network you have today. Beyond nurturing the network you have, how might you add to it? Check out the Rate Your Network section of John Kobora’s HelpGuide for Networking. The questionnaire gives points based on how much candid feedback your network gives you, whether it feels vibrant and dynamic, and our personal favorite: does your network represent your future goals as much as it does your past.

Our Top Plays with respect to mentoring:

  1. In our experience, very few companies have formal mentorship programs. Without a formal program, it’s usually only in hindsight that we identify who our mentors have been, and only in hindsight that we recognize those times we were a mentor for others. Change that. Be intentional about seeking out mentors and making yourself available to mentees.
  2. When searching for a mentor, think about who you respect, who do you enjoy talking to. In our experience, a good mentor is simply someone who is willing to listen, and someone who knows you well enough over time to guide and/or challenge you.
  3. We are all the same. In any given role and relationship, we each have the opportunity to be the teacher, and then the student, and we often swap back and forth.  
  4. Consider a formal coach. Several of us have had good experiences in working with a career coach. Consider applying to be a formal mentor to others, through a company such as Everwise.
  5. Role models and mentors don’t always have to have anything to do with your professional career. Extend beyond a business-only mindset, and search out those people and experiences that yield lessons and growth for your whole, integrated self.

Your Turn to Add to the Conversation: What questions should you ask to get the most out of a conversation with your mentor? What is the funniest or strangest mentor/mentee moment you’ve had? Leave a comment here, on our facebook page, or on twitter @realtechrl #realmentors.