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How Networking Can Help with Long-Term Career Management

Two people shaking hands at a table in an office.

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I keep reading about the importance of networking in a job search, and I can see the relevance of that, but then I read articles about nurturing your network for the long term, and I'm not quite sure how that's done and why it's a good idea. Can you shed some light on this, Martin? 

By far, the easiest and most pleasant way to make a strategic career move is by networking and having a colleague introduce you to the appropriate hiring manager or recruiter.

But many people have very limited networks, when they should have constantly growing networks made up of professional connections. Most people are too busy focusing on their work to invest time in an activity that doesn't necessarily have an immediate payoff. When we leave or lose our jobs, though, we realize how helpful it is to have that extensive, profession-relevant network.

LinkedIn is the dominant social media site for professional networking and is a honey pot for recruiters and headhunters. Most users have between zero and 300 connections. I work every day with serious professionals making strategic career moves, and my estimate is that most networks hover around 75 relevant connections.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that we spend an average of 4.2 years in a job; that equals more than 12 job changes if the average career spans more than 50 years. So how is a stagnant network of around 75 connections going to help you through all those changes? Now let's throw in something really interesting: CEOs average 983 connections. Does that tell you anything?

If networking is the easiest and most pleasant way to make a job change, then building and nurturing professionally relevant networks is the lifeblood of your career—and ongoing economic stability.

I always suggest to clients that their social networks should focus on people in the same profession and, only to a slightly lesser degree, the same industry sector. You want to build networks of:

  • People who hold the same job title as you. You want connections with the same degree of experience as you, plus people with more and less experience; they are all valuable.
  • People who hold job titles one, two and three levels above you because these are the people likely to have the authority to hire you.
  • People with different job titles and perhaps in different departments, with whom you interact on a regular basis, because they too are likely to know of openings.
  • Any corporate recruiters or headhunters who work in your field.

Six Degrees of Separation

This all makes sense in the short term, but what about the long term? By joining professional associations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), you'll meet the best-connected and most-committed professionals in your area. Dedicate time to attend your local SHRM chapter meetings and get to know and be known by the inner circle of your profession. Joining HR groups on LinkedIn similarly empowers you to reach out and connect with other members. When you make a connection, you may have access to that person's connections as well, which extends your network exponentially.

You can also expand your online network by "liking" someone's post. Doing so makes you more visible to recruiters and LinkedIn's algorithms. After you like a post, reach out and ask to make a connection because of the post.

I don't advise creating original posts yourself because it takes too much time. Instead, curate things you've read. Pair a link to the content with a statement such as "Hey guys, we are all busy but if you missed this (add link) about ______, it's well worth a read." Again, posting makes you more visible, and when people like your post, you can reach out with a connection request.

If you do this over time, you'll be better prepared for your next job change with a large database of connections that can help make that change easy and pleasant. This is why we should all treat networking as a beneficial long-term career management tool.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today.


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