Each week members of our community pose a tough question they’re facing in their career for Valerie Sutton, our Non-Executive Director for Workforce Navigation & Transformation. She posts her response in our community and we then share her advice via our blog. Last week one of our members asked: How Can I Network at My Job (is that a thing…?). This is a terrific question! And, yes, you can network at your job – it is actually a very important thing to do. Got your own career-related questions? Share your questions with us via Instagram or LinkedIn!

“Empathy nurtures wisdom. Apathy cultivates ignorance.”

―Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Starting a job – especially after an extensive job search – is an exciting moment to celebrate! That first day, your first outfit, and those first interactions with new colleagues – it is all a lot to soak in! But unfortunately, many people feel that this is the moment to settle in and get down to business: no more resume sending, no more interviews, and no more networking. Wait – no! Cultivating professional relationships – or networking if you prefer – is one of those activities that’s ongoing. Once you have a job, it is easier to develop relationships that will help you along the way. So whether you’re in your first job or second, the critical network you cultivate will focus on those who can help you work smarter in the organization and those who can help you navigate promotions; this is especially true within the three months to first year in any new role.

Cultivate relationships to work smarter

You’ll want to start with working smarter. Working smarter is about taking the time to learn how to achieve the organization’s goals for you most efficiently and effectively possible. In addition to building relationships with people on your immediate team, you’ll want to start with understanding how each department in the organization works with your department. This way, you’ll understand key points of collaboration, for example. Frequently, these folks will be peers you may partner with to achieve the organization’s goals. In the end, they will serve as a core network for you at work.

A great way to do this is to work with your manager or colleagues to build out a list of departments and people relevant to your work and the goals you’re responsible for delivering. Then, turn this list into a plan, complete with relationship-building goals. Finally, leverage informational interviews across the organization; they are a great way to develop relationships to learn more about these areas.

Questions to ask in informational conversations about working smarter:

  • How have you collaborated with my department in the past?
  • What are your department’s most significant challenges?
  • What technologies are you using most effectively?
  • How can we best support each other’s work?

These questions can help you better understand where you might be able to collaborate and learn skills to help you in your job and provide you with valuable tools to help get your work done. You may also find hidden gems for process improvements across departments showing you can go above and beyond at work, and it goes a long way into building trust with your colleagues. 

While you’re engaged in these informative conversations, you should also share your background and why you were keen to join the company in your role. Perhaps share what you hope to learn in the organization. And take the opportunity to ask questions about their professional backgrounds. These are how professional relationships begin.

Of course, this type of networking is easier to do in the context of an office as you can run into people in the elevator or the café. However, you can also cultivate relationships in remote environments, but you will have to be more intentional about reaching out and setting meetings. 

Cultivate relationships for visibility & promotion

The second set of relationships to cultivate is with people across the organization who are more senior to you and can influence your career trajectory. Creating an influence map is helpful when thinking about these types of relationships. You’ll start with identifying the people who decide for the projects you work on and potential promotions. From there, you’ll identify the people closest to those, as they will likely influence their decisions. This type of relationship-building takes place over time, and with this type of networking, you’ll want to showcase your skills and success on projects.  

An easy way to accomplish this goal is to practice “show & tell.” Using this technique, when one of these folks asks you how you are doing, let them know about a project you’ve worked on and show interest and enthusiasm instead of only responding to their question. 

For example, instead of saying “I’m doing okay,” you would say something like, “I’m doing great! I just finished the marketing campaign, and it had a 70% read rate.” You’ll also want to ask them questions in return. The questions should relate to the overall strategy of the department or organization so that you can identify the projects that will have the most impact.  

These two aspects of developing relationships at work are just the beginning. Cultivating professional relationships is a lifelong process, and, especially in the workplace, it is essential that you think strategically about the relationships you build for success.