I recently met a woman who is interested in changing careers and wanted to hear about the various shifts I’ve made over the years from law, to politics, to technology, to real estate and back to technology. She was anticipating a big change from having had her own company for many years and now wanting to go back to working in a tech company, something she’d last done over 15 years ago.
When I told her about my jumps between tech companies, she asked how I had done it — how did I go from Intuit, to Netflix, to theBoardlist, and then KQED? Those were all such different companies, and each one quite different from the last.
I stopped to think about it for a moment and realized that in each of those cases, someone I’d worked with previously and delivered a ton of value to was the person who brought me into each new role. Basically, each time, there was someone in a hiring position who thought, “I need someone like Lesley.” And then they reached out to me. My network was the reason I got these roles, but not exactly in the way you might expect.
The saying about networking that you’ve probably heard before is that it’s all about who you know. But what I realized as I was talking about my experiences is that it’s not so much who you know, but who knows you.
Networking is fundamentally about relationship building. Strong professional relationships are based on connection and mutual respect. This means that if people don’t know you or your value, it’s unlikely that they will connect you to potential opportunities or new relationships — why most people network in the first place.
Successful networking starts with demonstrating your value to others — either based on an existing or previous working relationship where you’ve had a track record of delivering value that the other person recognizes, or by bringing value immediately to the table to a new person you’re connecting to.
So if you’re looking to build your network, remember the goal isn’t to just meet people in certain positions. The goal is to bring value to others so that you’ll be on the short list of people they’ll call on when an interesting opportunity comes along. Deliver value and be memorable for all the right reasons. Make sure the right people know you.