Too often, the advice we hear about networking is tailored for meeting new people at networking events and having the perfect "elevator pitch."
Sure, that's important, but what if you already have a robust network that you've developed over a successful career? What steps should you take if you want to leverage that network to continue to grow and re-imagine your career?
Done right, successful networking for career veterans looks very different than it does for those just entering the workforce. Instead of focusing on building new connections en masse, people 50+ need to look at ways to uncover the power of their existing relationships and strategically add new ones.
When you dig into your current networking relationships, you'll be able to find exciting opportunities right under your nose. Here are five ways to do it:
1. Create Your New Rolodex…Online
To maximize your reach, you first need to understand what your network "looks" like. Do you understand its depth and breadth?
In the past, the Rolodex was a valuable tool because professionals could flip through it and find the people they needed. These days, you need to use technology to collect and collate your contacts digitally.
For example, use your LinkedIn account not to meet new people, but to bring all your existing contacts into one place. Then, you will have an easy way to access their contact information, as well as their professional experiences, skills and even goals.
2. Rekindle Dormant Relationships
If you've had a career that has spanned decades, there's a good chance you have hundreds or even thousands of contacts you haven't spoken to in years. In the 20th century, we didn't have the tools to maintain relationships with people we saw only occasionally. Now with social media and email, it's much easier to stay in touch.
There's nothing wrong with reaching out to a contact from years ago who could be helpful to you now and saying: "It's been a long time, but I'm rebooting my network and you were an important part of it in the past and I wanted to see how you were doing. How are things?" You don't have to be best friends, but you do want to keep the lines of communication open.
3. Find Ways to Support Your Existing Contacts
We go to our network to find opportunities, but many of us feel awkward asking for help (even if we have a close relationship with our networking partners). One of the easiest ways to receive is to give first. So if you want a comfortable way to reconnect with people, look for ways to support them.
Do you have a contact or information that would be valuable to someone in your network? Share it! The willingness to grab a conversation over coffee or lunch (your treat) can be very powerful. It's not about making your network contacts feel obligated; it's about creating positive karma.
4. Fill the Gaps In Your Roster
When you are an industry veteran, your existing network will be relatively robust. But that doesn't mean it will be perfect. Your network developed as your career progressed, so it's gotten you to here…but it won't necessarily get you any farther.
If you want to continue to grow, you’ll want to fill the holes in your network. These are the individuals who can help as you move into your next chapter.
There are two easy steps to help you move past these gaps. The first is to identify who exactly you need to connect with. What industries are they in? What positions do they hold? Next, when you’re meeting with your existing contacts, say: "I'm trying to meet people in ______, who can you think of that I should talk to?"
5. Ask For Help
The biggest networking challenge experienced professionals face isn't a lack of access to the right contacts. It’s that those contacts don't have the chance to help. Your network can only assist you if you ask for help first.
Don't assume that your network is filled with psychics! Most people are more than willing to help, and are usually happy to do so. But you have to let them know you need their help and what kind of help you need.
You can provide an "out" when you ask, in case your contact isn't in a position to assist. Just don’t wait for people to offer.
Why Your Network Is Like a Fireplace
Your network of professional connections is your most valuable career resource; no matter where you go, you can take it with you (especially in this digital age). This network holds job opportunities, industry information and even possibilities for you to give back to those just starting out in their careers. But it can only provide value if you give it attention and love.
Just as you can't sit in front of a fireplace and think, "When this gives me some light and heat, I'll throw in some wood," you can't expect your network to give back without you putting in the effort first.
And when you do put in the effort, the return will blow you away.