Every professional—from the entry-level contributor to the executive-level VP—can benefit from building a broad and diverse network of relationships.

The people in your professional circle can not only help you advance in the workplace, but open your eyes to new career opportunities and interests. If you want to make the most of your network, here are four tips to help you grow your connections in a way that enables you to develop as a leader.

TIPS FOR GROWING YOUR NETWORK

1. Define Your Network


To build a robust network, you have to start by understanding its current state.

Think in terms of your relationships, and consider the people you know and depend on in your professional life. To get started:

  • Make a list of your contacts
  • Scroll through your LinkedIn connections to remind yourself of who’s there
  • Look around your office. You would be surprised how easily you find yourself saying, “I forgot those people helped me with that deadline. I should check in with them.”
  • Look at your resume. No, really. Take a moment to think carefully about where you have been throughout your professional journey—from your time in college, to graduate school, to your first job. Who were the key people helping you at each stage of your career? Those relationships are ones to cultivate or repair.

Related: To Have a Friend Is to Be a Friend: 3 Steps for Networking

2. Break Down Your Network


Once you’ve identified the people who have helped you professionally, you can break your network down into three categories:

  • Strategic Network: Who helps you stay on top of trends in your field and look ahead to plan strategically? Bucket those individuals here.
  • Operational Network: Who are the people you count on to help you get the job done? Who are the people in other departments, or even outside your company, who don’t work for you but you rely on nonetheless? Those individuals fall within your operational network.
  • Developmental Network: Who has helped you develop professionally? Who is there to be a sympathetic ear in tough times and a sounding board when trouble strikes? Those people fit into your developmental network.

A complete network is strong in each of these categories.

Related: 6 Networking Tips for Online Learners

3. Examine Your Network


You took the time to think through the key people in each category. Now evaluate:

  • Which networks are strongest?
  • Which networks need development?
  • Are any key relationships missing?

After this analysis, it’s time to get to work.

Leadership Principles: Unlock your leadership potential. Learn more.

4. Cultivate Relationships


Here’s the secret sauce: Great leaders genuinely care about people and demonstrate authentic interest in getting to know the person, not the connection.

In the virtual age, business has become increasingly personal and interdependent. From a worldwide perspective, consider:

  • 58 percent of recruitment comes from social and professional networks
  • 49 percent of hiring managers are finding better ways to source passive candidates
  • 37 percent of staffing professionals are looking at building communities or a pipeline of talent

The trend among these stats are relationships and community, so use yours. But how do you do that?

The answer is: informational interviews. Though this practice is often a job-seeking strategy, it can be useful when applied to cultivating connections.

Is there a department in your organization you would like to learn more about? Go back to your team, direct report, or supervisor, and ask if they know anyone who would be willing to talk to you about his or her work.

Does your friend from graduate school work in a different industry than you? Ask him or her to connect you with a colleague for an informational interview. That’s right—meet with people just to talk about the work they do and genuinely listen to them.

Come prepared with questions. You might consider asking:

  • What projects are you working on right now that you are excited about?
  • How did you get started in this department?
  • How would you describe your professional journey?

To grow your network, your goal should be to build relationships based on genuine interest and respect, not a problem you need fixed. This is an essential practice that will require consistent follow-up, even if it’s a quick email or an office check-in.

These small moments, invitations, and follow-ups are the keys to cultivating relationships, and these are your network. Get out there and get growing.

Are you interested in learning more about how to expand your professional network and grow as a leader in your organization? Explore Leadership Principles, an online course launching in May 2019.

Emily Ostermeyer

About the Author

Emily Ostermeyer is a Content Developer at Harvard Business School Online, currently assisting with the Leadership Principles course. Before joining the Course Delivery Team, Emily worked in education, earning a Master’s in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. When she’s not working on course development, Emily enjoys reading, connecting with the greater Boston community, and of course, taking her dog Finn to the dog park.