Your Professional (Karma) Network

I contribute much of my career successes — from the military to being a software engineer — to the caring individuals in my network who pushed and gave me a chance.

Actively investing in your professional network improves your career. The sooner you start and the more you invest, the greater the return. Learning and helping others succeed is the currency.

Investing is "devoting one's time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result."

Your professional network is an investment that will pay tremendous dividends down the road. Like all investments, it's impossible to know what the outcome of your efforts will be. All you can do is decide to invest, trust the process, and go long.

A good network helps grease the wheels, supports you, advocates for you and exposes you to unknown opportunities, creating serendipitous career paths.

The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity. — Keith Ferrazzi.

I cherish the relationships and connections I have built with peers, managers, mentors, and mentees, and I look forward to interacting and learning with them regularly. I fondly remember the people I connected with, their stories, the support and guidance we shared, and the growth we went through together.

I still recall my commander’s advice in the desert many years ago while quickly forgetting the sweltering heat, tiredness and fear. Or the engineer coming in at 6 am to pair with me when I struggled. I don't recall the promotions, awards or accomplishments with nearly the same affection. People and their time matter more.

Don't underestimate your ability to bring value to someone else. — Michelle Tillis Lederman.

Renowned fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff advises giving something before you ever need anything. Minkoff recommends retrospecting on who you meet, what opportunities could be possible together, how best to engage and create authentic connections, and how you can help others succeed. At the extreme, even keeping track of contacts like a salesperson nurtures their leads.

I break my pro-network into four groups and invest differently for each.

Those I worked with directly; peers, managers, etc. I invest with intent and effort. Making time to speak regularly, even with individuals from 20 years ago. If they need help, I will make time and do what I can.

Those I worked with indirectly; same company, different department, etc. The people who know my name, but I might not know them well, if at all. I help with advice, recommendations, or introductions. For example, someone I only met in passing at a previous company reached out to me asking for my technical advice to help with a pitch. I took the time to reply with consideration, detail and care with no expectation other than the hope of helping. We now speak more often, and I have learned valuable lessons from them.

Those that don't share my core values or detract. An essential strategy for happiness. I do my best to avoid homogeneity, yet I don't hesitate to stay clear of people who detract rather than add; I wish them all the best and move on. For anything good to happen, for any investment to be worth it, you need boundaries. I can't connect with everyone and certainly can't be authentic if I try.

Those I meet along the way. The most exciting group for me. I don't have the same history or trust as the first group. Yet my learning curve feels more significant thanks to the often acutely different environments and perspectives. It still surprises me that meeting randomly and investing in others without expecting anything in return can produce so much value. A few years ago, I would never have expected to be able to reach out and ask for advice from an engineering leader at Microsoft or professionals in different industries like robotics.

All the time and effort put into networking can be all for nought if there is no follow-through. The same goes for sales. And leadership. And well, everything. — Beth Ramsay

Cultivate and invest in these relationships actively, just like you would friendships. Aim to create authentic connections and learn.

Who have you met recently, and how can you invest in them without expecting anything in return?

Let’s find time together if you want to talk about anything here. Read on Medium.