“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!” The old adage, while certainly over simplified and perhaps a little cynical, is an important reminder that often the one break a person needs to get started in a career is a personal connection to that first opportunity. In the age of online social networking, the connections we have are often impersonal and disingenuous. A person who is merely a number in you connection list is not likely to prove to be reliable or effective in helping you advance your career.
Social networking sites make a big deal out of the number of connections or friends you are linked to on their site. An argument can be made that the more connections you have the better the likelihood one of them results in that big opportunity. Call it the theory of mass action for social networking. However, simply being LinkedIn with someone does not mean they know anything about you, nor does it mean they are willing to invest their energy in your career advancement.
Miram Salpeter from U.S. News and World Report recently published this article with some very practical steps to getting the most of your social network. In the article she suggests that the quality of your connections may be a better indicator of potential success. How well do you know the people you are connected to in the field you want to get in to? Have you ever met them in person and discussed your career aspirations? Have you had an informational interview over the phone? When was the last time you sent them an e-mail or message to maintain or improve your relationship with them?
The internet is fast-paced and overloaded with information and people. For most of us, it is out of sight, out of mind with our acquaintances and connections. To assure you are not lost in the fray, engage your network. Instead of focusing on increasing your number of connections, increase the quality of your relationships with those you are already connected to. Here are a few tips to maintaining your social network:
- Reaffirm your shared interests by sharing relevant articles you have read. Then, follow up and start a discussion about it.
- Send an e-mail to follow up on a conversation you had the last time you met with your connection.
- Do not be afraid to get personal. Ask about their family. Be quick to offer congratulations if you see they have updated their job position or educational achievements.
- Be careful to not be solely focused on how someone can help you. Be looking for ways to help your connections. Alert them to job postings if you know they are looking. Suggest career development articles or workshops in their area.
Be proactive in building and maintaining a relationship with them. Being connected to many people looks good on your profile page, but nothing is quite as useful as the right person being willing to put their reputation down as collateral for your success.