It is always great to boast a large network, but hitting the 500+ mark on LinkedIn or having over 5000 Facebook friends doesn't mean you're a strong networker. Strong networkers don't just have large networks, they maintain quality relationships. Truthfully, I didn't fully understand this concept until this year.
Many professionals emphasize networking and strategies to build networks, however, there is little focus on network maintenance. The best networks are the ones we can call on for support when needed. For example, are we comfortable asking for a favour from someone we spoke to once at a party a year ago? In this case, the quality of the relationship is more important than the number of contacts in the address book.
In my podcast interview with Academy Awards Publicity Logistics Manager, Lauren Selman, we discuss the importance of quality networks. At one point, she shares a quote from her mother: "Networking, Lauren, is one letter away from not working." Reflecting, Selman explains that effective networking depends on the quality of the relationship. Professionals seeking employment, she suggests, often network with other unemployed professionals -- none of which advances the professional's goal in securing employment.
Aside from the clever play on words, I didn't initially understand Selman's quote or example.
In fact, I related to those young professionals. At past entrepreneurship events, I would walk away feeling confident with my new stacks of business cards and contacts. Upon further reflection, however, I have done nothing with these cards or contacts since the initial meeting This discrepancy made me consider my network to-date and how many I would freely call on for a favour or support.
In my media work with YOU Effect, I have always fostered good relationships with administrative and behind the scenes staff. I go out of my way to thank my makeup and hair artists, videographers and set aids. In the glamour of the entertainment world, it can be easy to forget just how many hands are responsible for bringing a project to life. Selman reiterates this when she shares how "it takes thousands, upon thousands of people behind the scenes to put on something as the caliber of the Academy Awards." To elaborate Selman's point, we often admire the best dressed celebrities on the red carpet but forget the make up artist, hair stylist, dress designer, jewelry designer, and others that had a part in creating that red carpet look.
In a similar fashion, I have learned the importance of including the assistants and staff of my key contacts in my network. It is no secret that the assistant is the gatekeeper to corporate influencers. I used to get frustrated with this extra communication barrier when trying to connect with a new executive contact. I will never forget the time I called for an executive on their direct line and the assistant answered to screen the call. I got the typical assistant shut down to the cold call. Already having a bad day, I wasn't in the most patient of moods and my frustration showed. I had been given the executive's email so I tried one last time to connect with them and it worked. Yet, when the executive ended up cc'ing their assistant to coordinate a time, let's just say she didn't bend over backwards to get me that meeting. We ended up scheduling it three months out!
Reflecting, I've learned that holding meaningful relationships with those behind the scenes contacts is more valuable than holding the business card to a Fortune CEO from an event. Networking is fruitless if there isn't a relationship beyond the cordial hellos.
In other words, quality contacts are not always the most obvious choice. As Selman shares: "I was referred to the job by the guy I rent my cars from. So whether they are a director, a producer, or even the guy you rent chairs from, be nice to everyone and they will help you out in the end."