I’ll be the first to admit it: When things are busy at work (OK, when are they not?), it’s tempting to keep your head down—getting to the office early, ordering takeout for lunch, and collapsing at the end of the day on your couch with some Netflix.
But while there’s a lot to be said for working hard, the most successful people out there will tell you that it’s just a fraction of what you need to get ahead.
Earlier this week at the New York Women in Communications’ WiCi Awards, which honored nine rising stars in the industry, honoree Mara Schiavocampo, a correspondent for ABC News, was asked what the best piece of advice she’s ever received was. She shared this story:
I reached out to one of my mentors for some feedback on my work one day… and I expected her to talk to me about my work—my on-camera presence or something. But her question to me was: ‘Who have you had lunch with lately? Who are you developing relationships with? Who knows about you, beyond work? Who knows what your interests are, what your family is like?’
She spoke to me for an hour and a half, and the conclusion to that conversation was relationships are everything. If you focus on relationships—revealing yourself to people, getting to know about people, everything else will fall into place. And I’ve found that to be true over and over and over again.
This probably isn’t news to you, of course: Whether you’re gunning for a promotion at your current job or trying to land a new one, knowing people who will support you, look out for you, and vouch for you can get you far. What can be tough, though, is squeezing all of that regular relationship-building into your schedule.
Here are a few things I’ve found helpful: First, plan around the times you know will be a bit less hectic. While I often find it tough to get away for lunch during the week, I find that an out-of-office meal on Fridays is doable—not to mention a nice treat. I’ll also often schedule coffee meetings during the mid-day slump (networking and a caffeine boost—bonus!). Another strategy: Combine networking with something else you’re doing anyway. I’ll often invite colleagues or professional contacts to post-work events I’m going to or ask a co-worker to join me for a stroll to Starbucks in the afternoon.
And finally, it always helps to remind yourself (or, be reminded—thanks Mara!) that networking is just as important as the rest of the items on your to-do list. Maybe even more.