For nearly fifteen years, I worked for a Fortune 500 organization with household name recognition and a blue-chip client base. My company’s name was often enough to open doors to business development opportunities.
In 2016, I made a significant career change. I joined a growing consultancy to build a new healthcare practice in Minneapolis. At the time, this was one of the firm’s smaller offices, and our local name recognition was still low, particularly in the healthcare industry. I quickly recognized that to achieve growth targets and attract talent for our team, I would need to become much more deliberate about networking and employ new tactics.
In less than three years, I have increased the size of my network by more than tenfold. In fact, today I have at least as many people reaching out to me as contacts that I initiate.
Following are several pieces of advice for elevating your approach to networking, based on my experience. These are tactics that anyone can apply, at any stage in their career, to build relationships and reap the benefits of a strong network.
Leverage LinkedIn to facilitate introductions.
LinkedIn has developed into an invaluable resource for researching companies and identifying people within these organizations that you want to meet. Once you have done so, look for mutual (first- and second-level) connections who can help connect the dots and facilitate those introductions.
It is important not to approach these introductory meetings as being just about having coffee, putting a face to a name, and expanding your contact list. These are great opportunities to broaden your knowledge, so it pays to put effort into preparing for each conversation and establishing goals for what you want to gain from them. For example, I plan questions to help me learn about aspects of the healthcare industry where I haven’t had as much experience, such as new business models, organizational structures, and operating dynamics.
In addition to thinking about what you want to get out of each conversation, consider how you can be of value to the other party. At minimum, you may be able to reciprocate by making introductions to others in your own network.
Participate actively in relevant organizations.
Getting involved in professional organizations is a good way to meet people and gain access to professional development opportunities. More than that, though, it can be a way to both showcase your skills and expertise and gain new experience that improves or makes your personal brand more interesting.
Look for opportunities to participate in governance (for example, serving on the board) or volunteering in a “working” role as a member of a committee dedicated to a particular task (for example, planning the annual meeting or orchestrating a membership drive).
With limited time, it is important to be selective about the organizations with which you commit to participate. I have carefully chosen just a couple of organizations whose missions are consistent with my professional objective of building a healthcare practice in Minneapolis.
Diversify your networking events.
Take time to define the different audiences you want to meet, and then find networking events that provide exposure to each segment. One key part of my role is recruiting, so I participate in a number of university events. For business development or finding experienced talent, I target events that draw healthcare executives and women leaders.
Additionally, look for events that offer the dual benefit of education. In my case, I have found Customer Experience Professionals Association events helpful for learning how companies across all industries are solving for some of the same challenges that my clients have.
Approach every contact and activity with purpose.
All of this takes time and must fit in an already busy schedule. Maximizing networking opportunities and gaining the most benefit from them requires becoming very purposeful in selecting events or activities and preparing for each in a way that equips you to achieve your goals.
Benefits beyond what I expected.
The discipline I have placed around networking has helped me achieve business development and recruiting goals, but I have realized benefits much greater than I anticipated.
I have broadened my healthcare knowledge significantly. I have discovered new passions, including being an advocate for women in leadership and for healthcare for vulnerable populations. I have also found new sources of support as a working mother raising three small children, including friends who support me personally and professionally.
Whether you are early in your career, established and content with your current role, or looking for your next opportunity, building and nurturing your personal and professional network is tremendously beneficial. It takes time and diligence, but the value is exponential to the time invested.