Who should be in your professional network?
If you were to ask friends, a lot of the same types would come up over and over again: the listener, the connector, the mentor. And while all of these contacts are important, there are a couple of lesser-known people you might be missing who could be vital to your success. (And give you an advantage—since most people don’t seek them out.)
Who are these crucial elements? I’m giving you the lowdown right here:
1. The Ambitious Young Kid
In the world of careers, it’s easy to always look upward: What’s the next big project? The next big promotion? The next big contact? After a while, it gets harder to start looking down. But that’s where having an ambitious young kid in your network comes in handy.
By having someone in your circle who isn’t as far along in his or her career as you, you’ll have an inside look at how the industry’s changing from the ground up. Plus, if you’re jaded and stuck in a rut, seeing someone who’s excited and passionate about your field’s wildly refreshing.
On a different, even more selfish note, it never hurts to know someone who could be the next big thing. You’d better grab that ironic beanie, because you’ll be the hipster who knows about a hidden gem before everyone else.
Not sure where to find one of these types? If there aren’t any awesome interns or entry-level employees at your own company, the best place to start is your college alma mater. Are there any students or recent grads doing stellar work? Reach out.
2. The Trusted Insider
Yes, people talk all the time about the importance of not gossiping in your professional life and how it always comes back to bite you. However, in my experience, having someone who always knows the industry dirt—and is willing to share it—is a great person to keep in your arsenal. Enter: the insider.
For example, I told my own insider that I was debating taking a freelance position at another publication.
“Oh, [Publication X] never pays people on time. And the editor is really rude, apparently.”
It was the first I’d ever heard of this site having issues, but upon gathering more intel from a couple of other sources, sure enough, the insider was totally right. And that made my decision to send that “Thanks, but no thanks” email much easier.
Finding a trusted insider can be tricky. After all, most people won’t just give you the scoop because you ask for it. Instead, it’s about building relationships with people who are not only well-connected, but also known for their observation and listening skills. Meeting this person’s surprisingly easy—because, hey, he or she loves knowing everyone. However getting introduced is only the first step, gaining enough trust to start getting the good behind-the-scenes info takes time and effort.
Another important distinction: While you want someone who knows all the dirt, you definitely don’t want to befriend a gossip, a.k.a., that person who spreads rumors (and drama) around.
3. The Little-Known Genius
While it’s crucial to connect with people who seem to know everyone in your industry (and can recite every contact’s birthday, favorite TV show, and Chipotle order), it’s also incredibly important to befriend hard workers who love what they do and don’t sweat the recognition stuff.
Freelancer Paul Jarvis recently wrote a fantastic piece about the difference between being successful and being known, and it’s an important distinction. There are so many people out there creating amazing things—and just because they aren’t verified on Twitter (or even tweeting to begin with) doesn’t mean you can’t learn a lot from them.
There’s something to be said for learning the secrets of people who just grind away at their craft without needing tons of press or accolades. And for that reason, these are the people who can make you better at your job—and help you (re)discover your own passion.
So, if someone isn’t shouting about his or her greatness from the rooftops, how are you supposed to know that this person exists? Finding a little-known genius does take some research. The best place to start is by asking your network who they think is doing great (unappreciated) work in the field—and then, go from there.
What other awesome people do you think should be in any professional’s network? Tweet me and let me know!
Photo of puzzle pieces courtesy of Shutterstock.