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The Three People Who Matter Most in Your Network

When it comes to networking that has the power to make a difference in your career, it's not about quantity, it's about quality.

The Three People Who Matter Most in Your Network
[Photo: Flickr user Pasu Au Yeung]

We’ve all seen the Power Networker in action: working the room, flitting from conversation to conversation, a bulge of business cards in his jacket pocket. He’s quick with a handshake and even quicker with an elevator pitch. He’s there to meet as many people as possible. He’s also doing it wrong.

I recently sat down to discuss the building blocks of a lean, effective network with my colleague, author, and behavioral economics expert Gary Belsky. "The danger in trying to connect with everyone," says Belsky, "is that you won’t understand your network enough to identify the people who can help you. You know a lot of people, but you only understand a few."

Building a network you do understand means taking a strategic approach to new relationships. Start by focusing on these three types of connections.

The Hub

One of the most critical elements of a well-curated network, the Hub is a person with connections—lots of connections. She’s likely an industry veteran with an executive-level title, and she can introduce you to decision makers at a wide array of companies. She’s busy, but connecting with her is easy because she wants to connect with you.

Unlike the harried Power Networker above, the Hub connects with purpose—specifically, to do you a favor. She wants to introduce you to someone who can help you close business or score investment capital. That’s because she understands the value of reciprocity: she’ll give you the access you need because, taken in the most generous light, she likes to help, but she also knows that doing favors adds to her relationship credit within her network. The more credit she can create, the more she can leverage her contacts to her own benefit later.

The Mentor

Like the Hub, the Mentor is a seasoned veteran with considerable industry experience. But his approach to connections is more measured, more surgical. The Mentor can’t open as many doors, but that’s not why he’s important. The Mentor is a long-term connection who can help you raise capital, build a client base and recruit executives and board members. He knows people who have been in your industry for decades, and these people trust his recommendations. If he asks them to meet with you, they will.

Because he’s more selective in his networking approach, the Mentor is more difficult to connect with than the Hub—so take a different tack. Find someone in your network who has accomplished what you want to accomplish, and ask him if he knows someone who can help you get to where he is. It’s likely he had his own Mentor and can introduce you to someone similarly helpful.

The Rising Star

She’s young, smart, driven—and she really wants to connect with you. But the Rising Star’s junior position and small network means she won’t be able to help you. Instead, she wants you to help her. And you absolutely should.

That’s because smart networking isn’t just about connecting with those who can help you now. It’s about helping others who might be able to return the favor in the future.

"There’s a tremendous amount of value in being able to help people," Belsky said. "When I meet with someone junior, the first thing I think of is, ‘Who can I put you in front of who can give you a job or money?’ If I can do that, he's going to owe me, and he might be able to help me down the line."

You won’t have to seek out the Rising Star. She’ll be referred to you through another connection, or she may just contact you out of the blue. There’s no magic formula for gauging a young professional’s potential to fill this role, but if she's organized, driven, and has clear goals, she's a safe bet.

Bonus Connection: The Outlier

If you only network with people in your industry, you’re going to miss out on the Outlier. The Outlier is an experienced and well-connected professional who works in an industry that may be tangentially related to your own—or not related at all.

"Some of my best connections have come from outside my industry," says Belsky. When you're introduced to an Outlier, you're introduced to his entire network. "People have husbands and brothers-in-law and friends, and one of those people might be in a position to help or be helped by you."

Connecting with the Outlier is best accomplished through shared interests or mutual friends. If, for example, you discover that a fellow craft beer enthusiast has a broad network of interesting-sounding folks, make sure to nurture that connection.

These three archetypes, plus the Outlier, are the core of an effective network, and connecting with them—and nurturing that connection—is easier than you think. Focus on making quality connections that can provide you with actual value, both now and in the future. In short: ditch the business-card bulk, and start being strategic.

Josh Mait is chief marketing officer at Relationship Science LLC (RelSci). His passion is building creatively inspired, strategically driven, successful organizations. His writing has been featured on Inc., Fast Company, and Entrepreneur. Josh lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Kira, and their two daughters.

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