Ask These Questions About Your Professional Network Before It's Too Late

When your boss calls you to your office to let you know you're being "downsized" it's a little late to start thinking about your professional network. So whether you fear you'll need a new job or want to find one to move to the next level, start the process by asking yourself these seven questions.

Many years ago I got the dreaded call into my boss's office. He told me and a number of co-workers that our jobs were being eliminated as part of a company "restructuring". No fault on our was just that our skills weren't needed at that time.

Luckily I was able to land another job in a different part of the same company within a couple weeks. But in the interim it hit home hard how few connections I had outside of the company I currently worked at. That insight made me resolve never again to be in such a situation and from then on I worked hard at expanding my professional network.

Today we're lucky to have applications like LinkedIn to store, manage and grow our contacts. But just having a profile and occasionally adding contacts isn't enough. Here are seven questions you need to ask yourself about your network to ensure it's strong enough to help you either weather a tough storm or find a new opportunity.

1) Start Basic: How Big Is Your Network?
This question assumes you have a network and a system to manage it. It still surprises me how many folks are NOT on LinkedIn given it makes networking much simpler.

So, assuming you've got a network, how big is it? Bigger is better in many ways (back in the day the Russian Army had a saying, "quantity has a quality of its own"). More contacts means a better chance of finding someone in your network who can help you in your job search. So while size matters, the quality of those contacts is important as well. To assess that we need to ask some additional questions.

2) How Big Is Your Company Radius?
As I mentioned earlier, one thing I realized after getting the bad news was that I'd spent all my time getting to know people in my company. The implicit assumption here was that I'd always work there and that I could use the company network to get ahead. Of course, that all went out the window. So you need to assess your network to see how much of it is composed of only people from your company. If most of it is made up of co-workers you need to actively look at ways to meet and connect with people in other companies.

3) How Big Is Your Industry Radius?
While many of us may stay in the same industry for much of our careers it also limits your opportunities if everyone you know comes from your industry. Obvious reason; if your company is getting hit with layoffs there's a good chance other companies in your industry are suffering as well and aren't hiring. So look for contacts outside your industry, especially ones that are healthy and growing.

4) ) How Large Is Your Geography Radius?
Is it local? National? International? Having mostly local people may be all right for a small businessperson whose company sells primarily to his or her community. But for people in larger companies it's best to have at least a more national network. Again, the thinking here is that if your area suffers layoffs from several companies there is less of a chance that your local network will help in landing a new job. But if it's national, then you have a wider playing field and a better chance of finding a position somewhere, even if it means moving.

5) How Big Is the Profession Radius?
During our careers many of us will change not just companies but also professions. For example, I started in manufacturing operations but moved to marketing. I also went from being an executive to teaching at a university. Having a network consisting only of folks who do the same type of work you do limits your options for career changes. Seek to have a diversity of professions in your network.

6) How Deep Is Your Network?
If you've got a big network with company, industry, geographic and professional diversity that's great. But if it's miles wide it will still be of limited help if it's only an inch deep in terms of the strength of the relationships. Have you kept up with the people in your network? Shared articles? Given them recommendations? If not then it's time to get started. Networks are like any other living organism, they need continued attention and sustenance to survive and thrive.

7) What Am I Doing To Grow My Network?
Building your network should be something you can do both opportunistically as well as strategically. From an opportunistic standpoint, whenever you meet someone professionally you should consider adding them to your network. This can be a fast and relatively easy way to increase your contact list. Strategically, if you have some gaps in your network that need attention (see above list of questions) then you may want to make a concerted effort to meet certain types of people that can help you improve the quality of your network. Both approaches make sense.

So those are my seven questions to ask NOW about your network. And of course, don't stop there. Take action to build it now so you can use it later to find the opportunities you want to make your career flourish.

What are your thoughts on assessing or growing your professional network?

[Web Image: oksix via Shutterstock]

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  • Matthew Minikel

    Great point with number 6. People you interact with on a regular basis should be know how you value them. When the time comes for a change in their company or your career path, you will be at the forefront of consideration.

  • Brenda Strohbehn

    Thank you, Mark, for the generous reminder to be generous---even before we feel we "need" to be! Your statement that "the quality of those contacts is important as well" resonated with my recent job search this past year and my recent publication of an e-book for those who are walking that path of unemployment. I plan to share this article with several current clients who will greatly benefit from its practical application.  

  • Mark Mcneilly

     Brenda, thanks for sharing it! Hope your clients find it helpful.

  • 83Spartan

    So many of us have heard how important networking is, but few understand what a great one looks like and how to build it. Mark, you've made an important contribution here by creating a useful framework of six characteristics that define what make professional networks effective, along with your seventh question addressing an essential network-building behavior. The principles embodied in your seven questions will help more people build the kinds of professional networks that will be most effective in supporting their occupational interests and needs. Thank you!

  • Eve Hernandez

    I agree on all points. I'd add that this is also a solid formula for being happy in the workplace as well. Getting to know others and exchanging ideas/solutions are great ways to establish your value and even identity outside the paying gig. Yes, there's a time commitment, but it's kind of like exercise - first step is the walk around the block. I joined a bi-monthly WordPress meet-up and the time investment is so minimal, but I value the collaborative relationships and new skills I'm building.

  • Hariship11

    Its ah wake-up call to all who's not nourishing their network ,where-in networking has transformed to be a primary entity of an individual.. 

  • Maulik Rastogi


    Mark McNeilly

  • Tarimo Arnold

    Mind-stretching article , totally made me realize what I am missing before I get hit hard! Thanks again @Mark!