There’s always a focus on looking upward in our careers—the promotion, the raise, the bigger desk. That’s why we network with people who are higher up on the ladder than we are.
And while that’s (obviously) good, I recently discovered that there’s great value in looking to the people next to us as well.
The idea of networking with your peers—a.k.a., “horizontal networking”—isn’t a new one, but when I started discussing it with friends, I was surprised by how few of them actually did it. Thus, I decided to do an experiment: I’d spend one week only networking with peers, who I defined as people who were within one or two years of my age and at the same level of seniority.
Sure, someone your own age might not be able to offer the same flashy perks as an important older contact (or even treat you to a coffee), but that doesn’t mean they don’t come with other big benefits.
1. They Can Give You Crucial Information
One of my friends was considering a job offer from a particular media company, until she talked to several peers who had worked there—and quit because the environment was so cutthroat. These people gave her insights that upper-level employees she’d met with hadn’t, simply because of their position on the ground floor. Unsurprisingly, she ended up taking another job.
The great thing about having networking contacts on the same level as you is that they can give you valuable information that someone older or more experienced might not have a handle on anymore. During my peer networking week, I learned all kinds of insider information about the companies people worked at, the executives they worked for, and the opportunities that were coming down the pike.
2. They Get Where You’re Coming From
Humble brag: I have mentors of all ages. It’s awesome. However, what I’ve found over time, is that there are some things my older, more experienced mentors don’t understand about the struggles I’m currently facing.
I work in media, and it’s obvious that the industry’s completely different now than it was 20, or even five, years ago. As weird as it may be, when it comes to SEO or promoting content via social media, it’s much easier for someone at my level to relate than it is for a distinguished, prize-winning journalist. While I definitely look up to my more experienced mentors, I’m glad I also have the more junior ones to turn to.
3. They Keep You Realistic
An old adage says you can’t compare your chapter one with someone else’s chapter 20. It’s intimidating—and unreasonable—to look at a person who’s a senior executive at a company (and 30 years older than you) and ask, “Why am I not there yet?”
Talking to people your own age gives you more realistic expectations of where you are and where you should be. During my week of peer networking, I felt inspired—and also relieved—seeing where people my age wanted to go. Hey, I’m doing a couple of things right, and that’s good to know!
4. They Will Be in Power Down the Line
And the most obvious reason you should network with your peers: They’re going to be in charge one day. Not all of them (unless you have the most kick-ass network ever), but enough that it’s worth getting to know them now. After all, it’s easier to get “ins” with people before they become big and important. Think of them as your own personal soon-to-be-famous celebrities—you want to be the person who knew them before they won an Oscar.
If I learned anything from my week of horizontal networking, it’s that everyone has something to bring to the table. So sit back, relax, and be open to people with fewer LinkedIn accomplishments than you.