By Kathleen Sullivan
Where do you want to go professionally this year? You have a range of options: a new role, a different industry, a promotion, self-employment, retirement, or a combination of several of these options. As you develop your career goals for the year, it is critical to have the right network in place to help you plan, assess, and achieve your goals.
Re-evaluate your network: Often, your network takes shape without much forethought or design. You meet people and develop relationships in school, at various jobs, and through professional organizations. These accumulated relationships become your network. When you are looking for a job or making a career change, you reach out to this network for advice and support.
However, they may not be the right people to help you attain the goals you set for this year. To reach your goals, you need information, insights, and influence. For example, if you want to change industries, you need assistance from people who have worked in that industry, who can tell you about the trends, opportunities, and pitfalls of that industry, and who can introduce you to people who have the potential to hire you for that industry.
Because your network developed based on relationships you had with people you knew when you worked in other industries, it may be unlikely that you have the appropriate people in your current network to help you with the transition to your target industry. As you develop your career goals, take an inventory of your current network and identify those people who have the relevant information, insights, and influence to support your new goals. Then, begin to design a new network.
Re-align your network: To design a network that aligns with your updated goals, first create the strategic framework. Start by developing profiles of the people who would be in your ideal network. For example: What industries do these people work in? What companies do they work for? What roles do they hold? Who are their managers, mentors, and colleagues? What professional organizations do they belong to? Who are their thought leaders? Who are the consultants, vendors, and distributors they use?
Once you have the strategic framework for your network, next fill in the framework by identifying specific people who would belong to this network. For example, find people who are working in your desired industry, company, or role, the hiring managers and decision makers, potential colleagues and mentors, thought leaders, and consultants, vendors, and distributors.
You can find this information by researching industry/trade publications, web sites, and blogs, company web sites, association directories, and business directories. Once you have your networking framework populated with specific names, you have designed the ideal network to help you reach your new career goals.
Re-energize your network: Now, your current network really can help you. Some of them may belong in your ideal network, many may not. However, even if they do not fit the profile of someone who should be in your ideal network, they know you, they believe in you, and they want to help you. Leverage your current network to help build your ideal network. Show them your networking framework and the people who would ideally be a part of it.
Ask if they can provide introductions or referrals to those specific people. If not, can they suggest other people who might be in the industries, companies, and roles you are targeting? As you start to make connections and build new relationships, you are creating the support system to reach your new career goals.
Resolve to recast your network every year: Your old network cannot support new career goals. Make it a step in your annual process of setting your new career goals to re-evaluate, re-align, and re-energize the network you have to create the network you need to move forward with your career.