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Leadership Lessons—Smarter Networking

Alison YoungBy Alison Young, Executive Director of Drexel University’s Institute for Strategic Leadership at LeBow College of Business.

Networking matters most when you need it least. And most women at some point in their careers have had a need to activate their professional network. When you’re looking for that next great job, raising money for your new venture or even seeking a new board member to advise your growing company, you should already have a trusted network of colleagues and professionals you can turn to. Here are a few smart approaches for building your network.

4 Tips for Effective Networking

1. Build your network when you have no immediate need or motive. The most important time to be building your network is when you have no immediate need for it. Genuine relationships, built on mutual bonds and trust can be rare in today’s fast-paced and increasingly global economy. We race from meeting to meeting, responding to voicemails and emails in between, and often times find ourselves stretched in multiple directions at once. Finding and maintaining focus on the job can be hard. And unfortunately, that story is becoming all too common among professional relationships as well. So distinguish yourself from the power-networkers who seek to hand out as many business cards as possible by listening more than you speak and focusing on growing your own collection of business cards, so that you build a network of authentic professional relationships that is worth the time you put into cultivating them.

2. Invest personally in professional relationships. Women have a distinct advantage when it comes to relationship building, because we tend to build work-based relationships that are also personal in nature. Often times when I’m asked to write a recommendation letter for a young colleague or serve on a new committee at the request of a friend or colleague, I remind myself – as we all can – that where I am today is a result of someone helping me in the past and that it is a privilege to call that person not just a colleague but a friend. Successful networks are built on strong personal bonds and not just activated when there’s a business need.

3. Step out of your comfort zone. One of the best strategies for smarter networking is making time for networking outside of your immediate sphere of influence. For example, consider the professor who attends education conferences and finds herself meeting with the same people she sees every year. Or the scientist who attends the aerospace event and talks to existing colleagues about her new research.  However, if the same teacher and scientist met at a networking event for women professionals like the PA Conference for Women, it opens the door to places otherwise not gone, like developing an innovative idea for the collaboration for students in the classroom doubling as a lab to supplement the new research. Make time to reach beyond your comfort zone to build your network and create new opportunities to add value to others.

4. Follow up. One of the most important steps in smarter networking is dedicating time to following up with your new contacts. When you meet someone new, take a moment to quickly write a note on the back of their business card about a specific topic or interest you shared. Write a personal thank you to your new contact referencing the conversation and connect with the person on professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Demonstrating that you took time to listen to the person you just met and then followed up with a personal note will put your name at the top of their list next time they’re looking for a colleague, not just a contact.

Successful networking means investing time in building personal, authentic relationships. And the time to be building your network is when you have more to offer than you require in return. Pursuing new business contacts as personal relationships and not simply an exchange of business cards will help you expand your network so that it’s there when you do need to find that new job or donor. Give your network a solid foundation by expanding beyond your comfort zone of familiar contacts and following up with new colleagues on an individual basis.

More on Networking

On October 2nd, Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business will be hosting a preview event leading up to the Pennsylvania Conference on Women that addresses the topic of networking and building professional alliances among women in the workplace.

For additional information and to register, click here.


Alison Young is a former White House official and nationally recognized expert on leadership and civic engagement. Alison can be reached via email at [email protected].