There is no question that networking, which we can define here simply as “a purposeful building and maintaining of relationships for professional success,” is a necessity. Several studies have demonstrated the connection between effective network relationships and career success. If you are looking to embark on a career in international development, networking is a valuable skill to acquire. So how do you ensure networking success to access opportunities in the International Development sector? Here are three key things to keep in mind to network more effectively.
Develop a Networking Mindset
Networking is not a one-way street. For every new connection you want to create, it helps to identify some of the specific things you can offer to another person. If you’re a recent graduate or at the beginning of your career, you may be thinking, “what could I possibly have to offer that would be of value to a new connection?” My advice is to be creative, think small, and do something genuine. For instance, say you would like to connect with an employee of an organization you’re interested in on LinkedIn. Before you ask for advice and insights, you could start by offering a compliment that shows you’ve done some research about the person or their organization. Or, say you come across an article written by someone you would like to approach about being your mentor. You could start by liking, commenting on, and sharing their article. Follow this up by contacting them personally to tell them about the impact their article had on you and why you think they would make a great mentor.
Diagnose Your Current Networks — and then Improve Them
To be effective, networks should be open, diverse, and deep. Open networks are networks with limited relationship overlap. Open networks also allow you to make valuable introductions between groups and individuals that would benefit from knowing and collaborating with each other. Intentionally connecting to people outside your immediate circle of influence will help open your networks. You might consider joining professional groups in your current city or your university’s alumni group. If you’ve changed cities recently, think about maintaining a few old connections to keep your network open.
Diverse networks span boundaries to help you achieve your goals. Diversity in your network broadens your thinking and opens you up to new opportunities. For recent graduates or young professionals, think about making connections outside your field of study, in a different city or country, in a different department within your current organization, people within other organizations, people of different genders, ages, cultural backgrounds, etc.
Deep networks consist of quality relationships built on trust. Strong ties are connections you can leverage to share knowledge and be more innovative. These might be people you have collaborated with on work- or school-related projects in the past. You already have some insights into their working styles and habits. These are people to keep in your networks. You should actively work on maintaining the quality of these relationships and ensure they remain mutually beneficial.
Good networking is all about being intentional. Do not rely solely on chance to form your network. This means looking outside the people you know from your university, internship, or office; the people you’ve bumped into at workshops and seminars; or connections you’ve randomly made on LinkedIn. Effective networks require having a professional goal in mind. It doesn’t matter if the goal is short-term and focused on the next few months, e.g., getting a temporary volunteer position, or long-term and likely to take up to a year or more to materialize, e.g., getting into a specific role within a specific organization. The point is for you to determine the people you need in your network to help realize your goal and intentionally find ways to connect with them, whether they offer you advice and insights, mentor you, or help you make the right connections to reach your goal.
In the end, it’s about quality, not quantity. Your network should consist of connections that have been carefully and deliberately chosen. You should be intentional about how you leverage these connections to reach your professional goals in the International Development sector, being mindful to always give something back in return for every favor that you receive.
If you want to learn more, Acumen offers a great course Networking Leadership 101 that guides you through the process of developing your core professional network.