Building Your Professional Network
How to Build Powerful Relationships in Our Hyper-Connected World
Author J. Kelly Hoey says diversification is the key to building your dream network
Since we are talking about investing — well, investing your time — I might as well start with a disclosure: before having J. Kelly Hoey as a guest on my podcast, I hadn’t given my own networking game a lot of thought in, well, decades.
When I began my career, I consumed countless books and articles to improve my abilities to “work a room,” give the perfect handshake (web to web!) and amass stacks of business cards. Thinking back to those days and my overzealous networking activities leaves me feeling both cringey and tired. In hindsight, it seems like a big waste of time, energy, and cardstock.
Times have changed, the way we do business has changed, so the way we network has to change too.
Hoey, who started as an attorney, moved into management, and transitioned into the tech space and was credited by Forbes as “1 of 5 Women Changing the World of VC/Entrepreneurship,” is also the author of, Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World. If you want to build a tribe of supporters as she did, Hoey advocates adopting a 360-degree approach to building, nurturing, and deploying diverse contacts from a wide array of industries and organizations.
Here is some of what J. Kelly Hoey had to say in our interview and how you can apply her advice to your professional life:
Free yourself of antiquated networking ideals.
“First off, that old definition of networking, ditch it. Write it on a piece of paper. What you think networking is if you think it’s schmoozing, and talking to strangers, write down what you think it is and then take that piece of paper over to the toilet and flush it,” Hoey advises. Perfect. You will never again need to worry about having to “work a room” or amassing a tower of business cards from strangers. Rid your mind from any semblance of this antiquated notion.
Adopt a 360 approach.
You don’t need to add on a bunch of schmoozy activities that leave you demoralized. I realized that old definition of networking doesn’t serve us in this sense: we have a notion that to get ahead, or to get what we want, we’ve got to network up the food chain. Like some magical muckety muck in the corner with a big office and the fancy title is going to give us what we need when in reality networking is 360 degrees. The person who could create an opportunity for you, particularly thinking about this in the tech space, could be that intern,” she counsels, or the boss that is 20 years younger than you.
“Stop looking at networking as this power imbalance where you’re seeking something from somebody who appears to have more power than you because they’re older and have gray hair.”
“Replace that perspective with one of, “You know what, my opportunity could come from anywhere, so why don’t I just be a decent human to everybody who’s around me?”
Recognize that you are already building your network.
Networking, according to Hoey, is “How you show up for your colleagues. Do you mentor?
Do you volunteer? Do you blog? Do you sit on a committee at work?
Are you one of the people who help recruit or onboard new people into a group?” All of that, Hoey assures, “Is network building and that’s the stuff you’re already doing. So, focus on doing it a little better. Realize it’s networking and cut yourself some slack.”
Start with intention.
Ask yourself, ‘What do I need?’ Hoey recommends, “Having a focus for your networking efforts and before you sort of rush out and into the busy work of networking like joining something or reaching up to someone on LinkedIn who you don’t know, take a big deep breath, take a piece of paper or open up a spreadsheet and think, ‘What is it that I need to know? What is it I need to know about this industry?’” Don’t limit yourself to one big question, think of all the information you need to know.
For example, Hoey says, If you want to change jobs, you want to get answers to questions like,
“What job do you want to change to? What industry do you want to go to? What role are you going after?”
She recommends that you, “Literally put down all the questions that you have, and then I want you to think about who is a person that you could tie to each question because what you’re really seeking is answers. If you start to seek answers, you may start to realize you already know people or you might know someone who may know someone and that’s a healthier and more productive way to start your networking.”
If you have nothing to go on, just get going.
This is where Hoey refers to a case study that was included in her book: Jennifer Johnson moved from Texas to New York to take a new job developing a new line of business for a new company. She arrived in New York knowing no one other than the person who had hired her. Johnson took the kind of strategic approach that Hoey endorses and, according to Hoey, Johnson asked herself, “’ If I was someone in this industry, the kind of people I’m looking to build a new business around, what would I be doing?’” Johnson created a profile of her ideal customer asking, “Where are they? Where do they hang out?” Hoey says Johnson continued her investigation,
“She really thought about it, ‘alright, if I was a chief marketing officer in the legal industry, what are the types of associations would I belong to? Where are those organizations? What do those organizations do? Is there a way I can get involved and check them out?’”
So, Johnson started looking into people’s profiles and, according to Hoey, she did some, “Detective sleuthing around, and she found an organization, lo and behold, that she was like, ‘Great this sounds like where my tribe is, a place I can go and meet the types of people who I can sell my services to.’”
So, if you do have to start from zero, Hoey advises that you “Sit back, do that ideal customer profile of like, ‘Alright this is the kind of person I need to talk to’ and think about where would they hang out and then go and find those groups, meetups, organizations, associations, whatever and check them out and say, ‘Alright are these places that I think I could engage? Contribute? Be of service? and meet the people I need to meet to further my career or launch my side hack?’ Or whatever it may be.”
When it comes to investing your time into attending events, do your due diligence.
“You write a book on networking, you eat your own dog food,” Hoey quipped. “All the advice I’m telling you is advice I follow and have done myself. When I really got involved in this New York City startup community, I did run around to multiple events in one evening so that I could assess where to invest my time further in the future.”
“As people would recommend events to me, I’d ask them some questions about it and then go and do my own due diligence,” she suggests. “If you start seeing events and you’re trying to assess which ones, this is also a good chance to ask people you already know.” Hoey suggests saying something like, “Hey, I see you belong to this group, or you’ve attended a few of these meetups, can you tell me about them? Have you found them valuable? What’s valuable about them? What have you learned?” She recommends always asking questions before you RSVP, even if someone you respect says, ‘Hey, you’ve got to attend this event.’”
“How many times has someone said that to us and we rush off, we register, we get on the Eventbrite and then we show up at the event, whether it’s on Zoom, or in-person, and we think,
‘Oh my God, why am I here? Why did my friend think this was a good idea? This is a nightmare.’”
Avoid that scenario by asking questions first.
Ask organizers for help.
“I think organizers of events have a big responsibility, whether it’s online or offline, to welcome in new people,” Hoey observes. “I say that based on an experience with a couple of organizations who do this really well and it’s not hard and so many organizers don’t. One thing to do when you’re new is to reach out to the organizers and say, ‘Who should I meet?” or ‘Hey I’m new, this is my first time here, can you tell me how these events are usually run?’ or ‘Can you tell me some ways that I may be able to meet some people?’”
Hoey encourages you to be specific, say something like, “I’m new and this is the reason why I joined, is there someone here you think I could talk to about these things?” It is not hard to do and it’s kind of incumbent upon the event organizer to help you out. Note to event organizers reading this article: please take care of your members.
Once you get to an event, Hoey encourages you to speak up and say, “Hi I’m new, I’ve just joined because I saw your organization does this and this is something that I’m really interested in exploring to further my career. That’s a great opener to start a conversation with someone.” The only way for your needs to be met is for you to express them.
Focus on long-term investments.
Once you get involved in an event or an organization, Hoey advises that you “Understand that the first interaction, that first time you show up, is just the first. Unless the organization and the individuals there cause your radar to go off that ‘this is not my tribe,’ then you can have one and done,”. Otherwise, she says, “Typically nothing happens in one networking interaction, it is the start of a possibility so take it easy on yourself.”
“If you say, ‘Yeah there’s a possibility here,’ keep showing up.”
“One of the greatest opportunities that transformed my career came from being actively involved in a business organization,” she recalls. “I could have just created a profile and I could have just showed up at this little breakfast and handed out my business card and nodded politely and said, ‘Oh this is nice, I get entertained once a month and I get their newsletter and isn’t that interesting.’ Instead, Hoey relates, “I looked around and said, ‘Wow, there are some other ways I can be involved,’ and I did that and nine months later, after being a member, the founder of this global business network called me and said, ‘Who are you and what do? I’d like to find out more, you’ve been asking good questions, you’ve been contributing in ways that I don’t notice other people contributing,’ and at the end of an hour-long phone call, she offered me a job that had previously never existed.”
If you aren’t connecting, consider what you can be doing differently.
“If you’re not getting meaning out of a group, you know, kind of take a look in the mirror and say, ‘What part of this is within my control?’ Are there things I could shift or do, raise my hand for, and maybe get some more value? Rather than just thinking, ‘Hey this group’s useless, and I’m going to ditch it.’”
“Sometimes, it’s like a first date. You meet someone, you meet an organization and it’s love at first sight and you know you have that instantaneous connection. Other times you sort of think, it’s like, oh, right that bond grew over time, but I think if you have that clarity on why you’re there, you can start to see where there are opportunities and you’re not sort of sitting there going, ‘This is useless,’ because you have some unrealistic expectations of what the outcome is going to be,” Hoey suggests.
Forget planning witty conversation starters. Hoey advises you to listen for other people’s needs and motivations. “To succeed in networking, listening, and observing what interests other people is maybe more critically important than what you’re saying. So often with networking and we worry about what we’re going to do and I’m like,
‘Worry about how you’re going to listen because that may reveal how to connect and engage.’”
Explore common ground.
“If you keep seeing someone at these events, whether it’s online or offline, and you seem to be showing up in similar conversations, why not say, ‘Hey we seem to show up at the same things, it would be good to get to know you better,’” Hoey suggests. “I know someone who recently did this as a result of online events where she had noticed somebody else seemed to keep showing up on these online Zoom events and on these chats around similar topics. She private messaged, I think was on Zoom, and said exactly that, ‘We keep showing up at the same things, it might be worthwhile for us to have a conversation about our interests and see if know there’s some intersection or collaboration or whatever. It would be good to get to know you better because it looks like on the basis of behavior, we’ve got some things in common.’”
You can also do some homework online to find common ground. “Look up people’s profiles and you may discover that you really do have a lot in common or you may discover something that you’re like, ‘Whoa maybe they’re making a career change because they’re currently in retail and now they’re going into cybersecurity,” Hoey suggests. “Maybe that makes sense that they’re at these events and you can reach out to say, ‘Wow, I keep seeing at these events and notice from your LinkedIn profile that you know you’re doing one thing and attending other things, I’d love to learn more.”
Genuine curiosity, according to Hoey, “Can solve a lot of networking ills!”
Mind your manners and the platform.
“Please bring basic human decency and etiquette onto the Internet, please, please, please!” she implores. “Treat these digital platforms as their, I want to say, ‘In real life equivalent.’ I like to say LinkedIn is the office, and for me, that would be like a law firm, I feel I have to put on a suit and pantyhose when I get on that platform. Facebook, probably friends and family, and Twitter is the grand cocktail party and clubhouses is a coffee room,” Hoey observes. “How you would behave if you were sitting next to someone in one of those different environments, that’s the context of what your behavior should be when you walk on those digital platforms.”
Commit to ongoing micro networking.
“Those tiny networking acts, recognizing that those can maintain bonds and restrengthen and affirm relationships and the failure to do them can cause your relationships to quickly dilute,” Hoey cautions. “You don’t need to make the grand gestures, you don’t have to say, ‘Oh every three weeks I need to do this.’ No, just show up for people. Don’t be a jerk. Be kind. Recognize that they have busy lives, they don’t need to be pestered all the time. So, say hello, send an article that you think they may be interested in. Retweet something they’ve posted. Those kinds of networking acts, done regularly and consistently, will pay big dividends. I promise,” she says.
Apply the Golden Rule to your networking efforts.
“Think about how you’d like to be treated,” Hoey implores. “You’re emailing someone, and they’re not getting back to you, pause and say, ‘Well, if it was me on the receiving end, would I respond to these emails, yes, no, maybe not?”
Focus on diversification.
It’s always a great time to start diversifying. “I had a very narrow network when I went to make an initial career change, it was very narrow and very deep within a particular profession. A particular subsection of that profession, they are relationships I still have to this day, even though I started practicing law back in 2002, but it really constricted my ability to make a career change,” Hoey recalls.
“If you have opportunities to diversify your network, this could be through volunteering, mentoring, some companies have public service or civic service. Instead of doing those activities with the people you see all the time, shake it up and go and connect with some different people. If you’ve got a side hack that you need to sell to new customers, you need more than your existing customer base. If you’re thinking about a career change, you need that diversity that could give you feedback and maybe open new networks and an opportunity, so diversify your network early.
Ultimately, it boils down to actually caring about your network. Hoey says, “This is where paying attention to what’s important to other people, it’s understanding that little touchpoints like acknowledging a promotion, recognizing a birthday, letting someone know that you care about them. Just checking in to see someone, how someone is doing, sending thanks when someone makes an introduction and then letting them know what happened with that introduction.” It the little things that will pay big dividends for your future.
I will close this article with the words from Hoey’s opening statement on the podcast, “The secret sauce is showing up every day for your network.”
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please commit your first random act of micro networking by sharing it with three friends. I am Roseann Galvan. I write, speak, practice, and sometimes even dream about workplace communications. You can listen to the entire interview with J. Kelly Hoey on the newest episode of The Communications Czar Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts, Google, or Spotify.