Networking is of course critical to your career: with the people you’ve met who can advise you, mentor you, help you in so many ways – people who know you, trust you, respect your abilities and see your potential. These relationships are the keys to your advancement, whether you are progressing in a straight line upwards in your niche or whether you are on a voyage of discovery, exploring radical alternatives. Your web of connections, both close and perhaps not so close, is the secret sauce in your professional life.
Keep in touch when you don’t need them. Don’t be afraid of reconnecting – they could be delighted to hear from you. But don’t be a nuisance.
Most of all don’t use your network. That’s right – don’t use them.
This is about your frame of mind as you approach these connections. When you’d like someone’s advice or assistance – by all means consider what it is you need so that you can make a clear ask that is easy for them to respond to. But more importantly think what it is that you can bring to them. How can you help them. This should go beyond the easy out of asking “How can I help you?” That’s usually much to hard to answer out of the blue. It may make you feel you tried – but really you didn’t. Think of some ways you might be of value before you make the move. Can you bring them news of innovations or the latest industry gossip? Perhaps they respect your taste and you can bring them a music playlist, or an invitation to screening or an opening. I do consider being an entertaining conversationalist a strength. Do remember that having someone coming to you and asking for help rarely leads to an entertaining conversation – so think that through. For younger pros it might well be that what you bring to the table as you approach a more senior contact is your grasp of the latest thing – whatever that might be. I knew a Creative Director who was happy to have conversations with the younger rising stars: she would say “I’d get my hipness injection.”
If you think this through and know the value that you provide to these exchanges, then it will all become much easier – it’s like splitting the tab. Don’t view yourself as a user in these relationships – to paraphrase JFK, “Ask not what your network can do for you – rather ask what you can do for your network.”