The Geometry of Networking

Elizabeth M. Yang
If you look at your network as a circle of support, you might be surprised to find that you have been networking all along.

If you look at your network as a circle of support, you might be surprised to find that you have been networking all along.

PeopleImages via iStock

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I have led a nontraditional legal career in nonprofit management and policy development. In many ways, my career was a surprise even to me. Along the way, it has given me unique insights into networking. Whether your career turns out to be “traditional” or not, I hope you can apply these insights to make networking easy and fun while using it to put yourself in the best position possible to face all of life’s surprises.

Reconceptualize Your Network as a Circle of Support

When we start our careers, the concept of networking is often one that looms large. Young professionals, especially, undertake networking efforts with a certain amount of confusion and reluctance. To many, networking is a dreaded word, a necessary chore, and something to be done dutifully, going through the motions.

That reluctance seems to be the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of what networking should look like. To many, “networking” means developing new relationships with individuals that can “help” you. That kind of relationship-building can be difficult, time-consuming, and awkward. It assumes you need to connect with as many people as possible who have connections that, in turn, can help you advance. This networking concept is based on the notion that you build your network up from yourself, almost like an upside-down triangle.

It is time to change our conceptions of networking to work for us. If you look at your network as a circle of support, you might be surprised to find that you have been networking all along. Understood that way, not only is networking easy, it is all-inclusive: It involves your relationships with your peers, with people who work for you, and, of course, with people who work at a higher level than you do.

Make Your Circle Work for You

With this understanding of networking’s best geometry—a circle supporting all participants rather than an upside-down triangle, primarily shouldered by you, for your benefit alone—there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Your peers are not your competition; they are part of your circle.
    They understand your job. If you offer them support and respect, you will likely receive the same in return. You might even become friends. Approached that way, work friends may become true friends, happy to help you professionally in the future.
  2. Mentoring others is networking too.
    Providing mentorship to others is not only highly satisfying, but it may yield unexpected dividends later. You never know where your intern or assistant will go. I have had numerous mentees go to law school and pursue more traditional careers. Now that I am in the consulting portion of my career, I have found some of these past relationships have led to new opportunities.
  3. Keep your (literal or, in the time of COVID, virtual) door open.
    While we are still social distancing, be visible on zoom calls. Your circle wants to help you because they see you and feel connected to you. There are times everyone needs to close out others, but don’t let that become your habit. Working behind a closed door will not help you build your circle.
  4. Remember that your reputation will always precede you.
    Are you that colleague that always has a good word for others, asks about how they are doing, and helps out when you can? I have found that a career of treating colleagues equally and with respect has led me to have great connections in cities in which I have never lived, which in turn has created opportunities for me going forward. 

Networking does not have to be a burden; it can provide you with lasting and sustainable relationships. I encourage you to think of it as your circle, united and centered on the ultimate goal of advancing all of its occupants. It can lift you to success, cushion you during life’s adversities, and provide you with meaningful, lifelong relationships along the way.

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Elizabeth M. Yang is president of WStrong LLC, a business consulting and coaching firm in Reston, Virginia.  https://www.wstrongllc.com.