Few get to the top of the ladder without knowing how to network. But once you’ve established an executive role, professional networking changes significantly, requiring a different approach. Yes, networking as an executive is a meaningful way to keep the pipeline open for future opportunities, but it’s also a way to establish your personal brand and reputation in your industry.
“Executive-networking is less about the individual and more about learning for, and empowering, the broader team and common purpose. It’s about honing an approach, a mentality or philosophy to support the team’s success; executive-networking is more purpose-driven rather than skills-oriented,” says Erick Tai, co-founder and head of engineering for Reflektive, a company that offers performance management software.
These seven networking tips will help you control your executive image, while strengthening your professional network to broaden your influence and reach.
Find a mentor outside your circle
Once you hit the executive level, you won’t find many people who can mentor you within your organization. Your professional network serves as a great way to find mentors outside your organization who can help you with “continuous learning and specific, professional development,” says Tai.
Tap into your network to find successful professionals outside your organization who might have something to teach you. Whether it’s someone with a skill you want to improve, or someone with experience you want to tap into, there’s always more to learn.
Tap your network for real-time engagement and feedback
Networking requires face-to-face interaction, which makes it a great opportunity to get “real-time engagement and feedback,” which is “key for relationship building and growth,” says Tai.
“Engineers and IT leaders are trained to share and receive feedback while discussing code, architectures, strategies, etc. Meetups and roundtables tend to make these kinds of exchanges more meaningful for participants. Event panels can be useful if they’re not too controlled,” says Tai.
Instead of relying on industry events to catch up with your contacts, you can cut out the middle man by arranging informal gatherings for your professional network. It helps you get to know your contacts in a less formal setting, which will allow you to strengthen the relationship.
Push your comfort zones
It makes sense to build a network of professionals within your industry and discipline, but you can gain a lot from expanding your reach. Bringing more diversity into your network gives you access to more innovative ideas.
“You may be more comfortable talking to peers of a similar background or work experience, but diversity can make your business and career vastly more successful. The key to being a great leader is to learn from others’ experiences and solicit feedback to help you think differently,” says Amy Cohn, VP of HR at Quick Base, a business management software company.
Network even when you’re comfortable
If you are comfortable in your current role, you might think you can back off networking until it’s time to find a new job. However, your professional network needs regular attention to solidify relationships and keep a pulse on the competition.
“Don’t wait to network. It’s not about finding a new job; it’s about broadening your knowledge by learning and sharing experiences with others,” Cohn says.
You should always cultivate a strong professional network, because it can give you more than good references and job opportunities. And, if you maintain your network, when it finally is time to find a new job, you won’t have to start from scratch — you’ll already have a strong base of contacts to tap into.
Create a talent pool
Your network is a great way to keep a competitive edge in your industry — and it’s a valuable hiring resource. As an executive, you will need to build a strong team, which requires solid hiring decisions. With a full network, you can “find great people directly or by referral,” says Matt Hoffman, VP of people at DigitalOcean, a cloud computing platform.
“Senior-level positions are most often filled through introductions and referrals. Keeping a strong network is the best way to keep the pipeline full, and be aware of competitive positions at other companies,” he says.
Give back to your network
Maintaining a strong network requires more than one-way transactions that benefit you and your career — it’s important to give back. You want to go into every relationship prioritizing the other person, rather than yourself.
“Approach the conversation with a curiosity mindset — what can I learn from this person, rather than what they can do for me? Focus on listening to them to understand how you can help, and offer to do so with no expectation of anything in return,” says Hoffman.
If you are “willing to offer more than you receive,” it will help build your reputation, and by supporting others’ career goals, they will want to support yours.
It’s not about closing a deal
“Don’t approach networking with a sales mentality. It’s not about introducing someone to help close a deal. It’s about furthering relationships and helping others where you can,” says Hoffman.
Instead, find ways you can help other people, rather than figuring out how they can help you. Learn about their interests, introduce them to people you know and find ways to further their career or strengthen their network, he says.
“Great networking hinges on giving freely of your ideas and sharing best practices. It should be approached with a genuine humility about the fact that you always have more to learn and you should always be looking for new ways to do things better,” says Hoffman.