Throughout college, my mom told me I needed to network, to which I unfalteringly responded with “mm hmm” and a roll of my eyes. What could she possibly know about getting a job in the social media era?
Almost three years post grad school, I will (slightly reluctantly) admit that nine times out of 10, it really is all about who you know. All those awkward alumni networking events, informational interviews, and cold emails do end up paying off. (Ugh, Mom, you win again.)
That means if you’re consistently networking, you’re already on the right path—regardless of where you want that path to lead to next. But I’d be willing to bet you’re not covering every base when it comes to increasing your professional circle. In fact, there’s one obvious place you might never think to look—and it’s where you currently work.
But why, you may ask, would I have one-on-one career conversations with people at my present day 9-to-5 unless it has to do with the job at hand? Well there are two big reasons.
You’ll Expand Your Network—Without Putting in Much Effort
Right now, the majority of your colleagues (excluding those who are lucky enough to have become your friend) are probably just that to you—colleagues. The sole role you associate them with is the one they have at work.
But just like you, each of your team members has most likely had experience prior to this job, meaning they, too, have an entire professional network you can tap into.
When you open the door to that guy from the IT department, you also open the door to people he knows. This could include past co-workers, individuals he met from volunteering, or friends he’s made through his soccer team. Not to mention his family members, as well as a variety of other people he’s met throughout his life.
So by grabbing coffee with him during the workday, you’re not just learning more about his job, but you’re also expanding your own six-degrees-of-separation network. Maybe you can’t tap into that when you’re trying to leave your current position (unless you get real close), but two jobs from now you certainly can.
Take me for example: When I was a graduate assistant, I mentioned off-hand to my boss that I’d just learned about life coaching and wanted to know more about the field. Little did I know, both her aunt and a good friend of hers are life coaches. She connected me to both. Sure, more than three years later I’m not pursuing that professionally, but I still have those connections should I choose that path one day.
You’ll Make Yourself More Valuable at Your Current Job
Networking isn’t always about moving to the next company or landing your next gig. Yes, it’s obviously super helpful with that, especially when your application is one of 300. But it can also be equally as valuable with the position you have now, too.
It’s a great way to build new skills, improve current ones, explore areas of interest in a low-risk way, and build your reputation up in the office. When you take the time to learn about other teams and what they do on a daily basis, you may see an opportunity to fill a gap by utilizing a skill you have.
This also works the opposite way. When you make an effort to reach out to people, they also get to know you, your capabilities, and your interests. So when they need assistance in their department, or even if they know another group that needs help, they’re more likely to suggest you take on the task. As you can guess, the more helpful you prove to be, the more your reputation will grow at the office as a talented and ambitious go-getter who’s always willing to lend a hand. (Not a bad way to be known, especially during review-and-raise season!)
And if you need more proof, you don’t have to look further than me. I love writing, but the majority of my job duties consist of numbers and PowerPoint presentations. After grabbing my morning coffee with a director in a different department and mentioning this fact, she reached out to me to draft some content for a product she needed help with. Had she not known I was interested in doing more writing, I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity. And without that experience, I wouldn’t have applied for an editorial internship at The Muse.
So, next time you find yourself with some empty space on your schedule, reach out to someone you don’t know well and ask him or her to go on a meet-and-greet coffee date, grab lunch, or join you for a walk. Get to know this individual—more about his or her position and what he or she did before. Worst-case scenario? You have another friendly face at work. Best? See above.
Need help with your networking strategy—in and out of the office? Check out career coaches who are trained to do just that.