We all know how important networking is for our careers. Building and maintaining strong relationships is critical to your professional success, whether you’re measuring salary growth, promotions, or job satisfaction over time. But before you rattle off how many “friends” you have on your favorite social media site du jour, know that not all contact lists are alike.
You want to assemble a diverse group of talent, dubbed “social capital” by the researchers who study this sort of thing, in order for your network of friends to really have an impact on your success. As with friendships, it’s the quality not the quantity that counts. So, who’s essential to your contact list? Here are the six most important kinds of people you need to know.
1. The Finance Guru
Befriend those who are wiser financially than you. “It’s well established that what our friends say and do affects what we say and do—and even what we think,” says Lynda Wallace certified positive psychology coach and author of A Short Course in Happiness. Having a financially savvy friend can have a positive impact on our own finances. “If our friends tend to throw their money away, it makes it a little more tempting for us to do the same. But a friend who is clear about her financial goals and consistently pursues them can inspire us pay more attention to our own financial well-being.”
2. The Connector
Think you can leave behind The Person Who Knows Everyone now that you’re all grown-up? Think again. “I would say that we don’t need a connector, but many,” says Sharon Good, life coach and owner of Good Life Coaching. It’s best to know a few people who thrive on socializing and making introductions in your network.
“These days, it's all about relationships. Think about LinkedIn: For each connection you have, you also connect to their connections, and their connections' connections, making it much easier than doing it one at a time,” she explains. Plus, when you need information or are looking for a new job, Connectors keep those tangential connections “warm” so you don’t have to start out cold when you want to reach out to someone a connector knows.
3. The Mentor
Take time to have coffee or an email exchange now and then with a mentor, the person who you can say has inspired your career direction from the beginning, says Christine Hassler, life coach and counselor and author of The 20 Something Manifesto. “It’s important to choose a mentor who is living a life you respect and want to model—not just someone who has a job or career path you would want,” she advises. “A good mentor will offer a balance between being a cheerleader and a coach: enthusiastically acknowledging us for our accomplishments while also calling us forward and not allowing us to settle.”
Sounds like a tall order for just one person? Hassler recommends not stopping at one guru in your contact list. “Having several mentors is ideal!”
4. The Innovator
Maybe this person is that entrepreneur in your contact list or the name that keeps you up-to-date in your industry. Bottom line: You want to maintain that relationship with the person who is always on the cutting-edge of your industry’s innovations. “An innovator in your circle of friends will remind you to not grow stagnant—just watching them tackle new challenges can inspire you to try new things yourself,” says Julie Melillo, certified business and life coach. “Entrepreneurs are also great at solving problems creatively, which can be a great help to you.”
5. The Leader
For those tough career questions, look no further than your former bosses or other leaders in your industry who you’ve met and exchanged business cards with at professional events. Mind you, they’re not the same as the warm, fuzzy mentors in your address book who you may have a fuller, more personal relationship with. Leaders are the folks who you look up to purely from a professional point of view.
“Success breeds success. Being around successful people rubs off. All goals are reached in the mind first. So when we see someone we admire obtain success, we believe we can obtain it, too,” says certified career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman, owner of Surpass Your Dreams and author of Coach Yourself to a New Career. Save these contacts for those rare, more serious work issues, but keep them in your contact list just the same.
6. Even the Frenemy
Yes, you read that right. Don’t snub the colleague who shares a similar work trajectory with you just because you sometimes feel like you’re in competition. This is a good dynamic, according to Brown-Volkman. “Frenemies are good because they push us to be our best. Competition forces us to rise to the occasion and go after what we want in our career,” she says. When we look at others, and what they have, it motivates us to go after what we want. “It also gives us confidence that we can reach our career goals because people we know have already done it,” adds Brown-Volkman. It’s the 21st-century spin on a time-honored adage: Keep your friends close and your (fre)enemies closer.
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