By Jason Warner – One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that they get caught up in the tactics of their job at a particular company, and they then don’t do anything to advance their career beyond their current employer. This is a significant error in life strategy.

I see people all the time, maneuvering inside a corporation to reach their goals. In the old talent economy, it was sufficient to network inside the company, and work on extra projects outside your department in order to be well positioned to earn the much coveted “consistently exceeds” on your annual review. In the new talent economy you have to take that one step further, and make yourself valuable outside your company as well.

Here are five ways to advance your career beyond your current employer:

1. Set aside a significant amount of time each week.
It’s important to realize that in a corporate environment, there will almost always be more work than time and resources allow. In fact, many companies manage expenses by employing an N-1 strategy to control costs. If the company needs N resources, they’ll only resource to N-1 (or N-10 sometimes). For a variety of reasons, this tactic controls costs, creates flexibility in managing expenses, and forces some degree of prioritization.

If you are the one willing to make up for the lack of resources, knock yourself out. I’m not suggesting that you do the bare minimum at your job, but I am suggesting that you spend a little of your weekly efforts towards advancing your career beyond your current employer.

2. Network for the sole purpose of building relationships.
Building a network has to be an ongoing, authentic pursuit. I recommend at least an hour a week of tactical, outbound, relationship-building efforts. Focus on trying to find ways to help other people. But make smart choices about who you network with.

Also, if you wait until you need a job, networking is largely ineffective. Nobody wants to hear from you only when you need something. I’m always trying to network, not because I’m looking for the next great job, but because it’s part of my overall life strategy.

3. Be online.
I recommend that everyone have a blog, and I predict that for top talent, blogs will become more important than resumes. (In some ways this may already be true.) If you’re going to blog, I recommend writing at least one or two posts week, and more if you can swing it. (Admittedly this is hard to do unless you are exceptionally talented or have no life.)

If a blog isn’t for you, at least become active online, either by participating in discussion forums, writing on distribution lists, or commenting on influential people’s blogs. You never know what connections will develop that might lead to career opportunity (or maybe you’ll even meet your mate).

Overall, online pursuits should be at least one hour a week. I probably do four hours a week, which consists mostly of writing for my blog and commenting on other blogs.

4. Understand the space you’re in.
Get to know whatever segment in whatever industry you are choosing to exist in. You need to know who the players are in the space you want to play. This understanding will help augment and align your networking efforts.

Some people actively make lists of the people they want to meet in their industry, and then start a targeted connection campaign. I prefer a more organic approach, and I simply try to authentically make human connections when there seems to be a reasonable opportunity to do so. You should spend an hour a week reading and exploring the industry you work in.

5. Give back.
Find ways to give back to the industry in which you work, for at least an hour a week. This can comprise many different efforts, from speaking at conferences, writing for journals, or simply attending industry events. Get involved in an industry-related non-profit organization. If there isn’t one in your area, start one, and it will give you an excuse to meet lots of people. Giving back to your industry is a way to further your career, and also to make yourself feel good.

14 replies
  1. Recruiting Animal
    Recruiting Animal says:

    Cuppa J, this was a surprisingly good post. I don’t mean that as a backhanded compliment but just that you sold me right off the top with that info about N-1. What a wake up call for perfectionists.

    I don’t agree with you at all about blogs. They’re beyond most people for a number of reasons. Participating in discussion groups is probably a much easier way to establish an identity online.

    Spending time in your industry associations is also a good way to raise your profile in a face to face personal network and with probable mentions online which will attract recruiters.
    However, real commitment probably takes considerably more than an hour a week.

    So, while I like the official okay you give to time off for networking, time is always going to be a huge issue.
    * * * * * *

    That’s my intent with the post:  everyone says they don’t have enough time, but they need to make time, as there’s alwas going to be too much work, regardless of whether you work for a small company or a large one.  You need to manage the whole career effort, not just the slice devoted to your current company.

    -Jason

  2. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    This is a very helpful, and “do-able” list even for busy people with a full life outside of work. I like the “1 hour per week” requirement you suggest. Most of us can find this — and it could even br broken into two: have coffee for 30 minutes twice a week with people outside your company; or one lunch per week. Also 15-30 minutes a day on blogging or commenting on blogs isn’t hard to do once you get into it.* * * * * *

    I agree. Small things done over time can have a big impact on your career.


    – Jason

  3. laurence haughton
    laurence haughton says:

    I find it very hard to, as you write “make smart choices about who you network with.”

    Part of that I suppose is because I hate it when people “better deal” me. (You’re at an event talking to someone and they are constantly looking over your shoulder for “a better deal” – someone more important, more glamorous, someone they think will be “better” to network with.)

    But beyond that I don’t know how to tell who is a “smart choice” without investing a fair amount of time getting to know them. Are there any rules of thumb for making smart choices fast?

    * * * * * *

    I think one key in deciding who to network with is have at least a rough about your goals are. It doesn’t have to be totally built-out. For example, I really want to work at well-branded companies (Microsoft, Starbucks, and Google so far) at this point in my career. That frames up a short list of potential recruiting industry targets. Finally, I think it’s helpful to control the selectivity and not leave it up to chance. Just showing up and networking isn’t as effective as understanding who is going to be ‘there’ (wherever there might be) and then making a point of connecting with them.

    With regards to your comment on getting “better dealed” you have to be authentic about networking with each person, as if you might be able to help them or vice-versa. The person who is looking for a better deal misses the whole point.

    – Jason

  4. Brent Driver
    Brent Driver says:

    Jason…Your second point about networking for the sole purpose of building relationships is the best point one could make about networking. That term has such a negative context for a lot of people (see Penelope’s recent post “for people who hate networking”). Authentic relationship-building is really what life (of which work is a part) is all about. You should “network” with people you like and with whom you have things in common. That will lead to a much more fulfilling and productive bond than basing your network-building activities on where someone works and how much influence they have. I consider everyone in my “network” to be friends. As such, we truly care about helping each other out in times of need. It’s like dating someone who you wouldn’t marry. What’s the point?

    * * * * * *

    This is a great comment.  I think much of the ‘pressure’ regarding networking is removed when you don’t have an overt ulterior motive.  What I mean is, if you show real interest in others (and in making yourself available to help others) then networking becomes easy because it shows through that your efforts are simply to get to know people and see where the relationship goes.
    –Jason

  5. Pete Johnson
    Pete Johnson says:

    I like the premise behind #2 the best of the things on this list. Building personal equity with others takes time and effort. You can’t expect somebody to do something for you “just because”. If you do that first favor, when you need one yourself later your likelihood of getting help increases dramatically. This is true of people who work for you in addition to your more extended network.

    —Pete

  6. Rowan Manahan
    Rowan Manahan says:

    I well remember my days as a marketing manager in a pharma company; making a monthly round of calls when it was time to deliver the detailed monthly report. My circle was a bunch of marketing guys who had met over the years – at conferences, training courses, industry events – many of whom had never worked together. We shared information about market conditions and ‘safe’ industry gossip, nothing proprietorial.

    I’m sure our respective Directors were very impressed with how plugged-in we all were, never realising how simple the network really was. This was in the days loooong before email, so making the time to do the calls and have the coffees was sometimes a little tricky, but it was more than worth the effort.

    Many of that crew are still good friends and we still share information and ideas in our resepctive industries. Many of the books I read, lectures and courses I attend and blogs I subscribe to are as a result of the information shared over that bush telegraph.

  7. Brad Maier
    Brad Maier says:

    Short of blog, a relatively small-scale website with some professional details, writings, links provides you with a networking platform on the internet that is easy to create and doesn’t require daily updating. If it does nothing else it will bring you further into the technological age and that’s a valuable investment of your time by itself.

    -Brad Maier

  8. Rambler
    Rambler says:

    I am starting to hear a lot about advantages of social networking and stuff, There is no doubt it helps, both inside the current job and outside the job in the same field, and even outside your field of work. I have seen that it pays of at the end.
    But sometimes I feel guilty, I feel as if I have chosen an shortcut, I feel sometimes I need to just stick to the old method of just hardwork and talent.
    What do you say?

    * * * * * *

    I think it is hard to create authentic relationships with social networking tools, because the interaction often is so rudimentary.  I view social networking tools as a way to find people with which to engage in ‘old-fashioned’ relationship building efforts.

    –Jason

  9. Tom Morgan
    Tom Morgan says:

    Jason,

    This is a crucial competency is this day of disposable resources and your suggestions are all doable by those willing to manage their own destinies.

    I have been through mergers, outsourcings, and buyouts where the bottom line is king and human capital are treated like pawns in the global game of commerce.

  10. Greg Paskill
    Greg Paskill says:

    At the start regarding “lack of time,” here’s something my contacts and I also have observed while trying to connect. Some networking targets have this mindset that they can’t meet with just anybody. Being selective while networking can have the unintentional effect of turning off future good customers like when companies say they only want the best and brightest. You may set out to reach Very Important Top Officer, only to see how rude and insensitive some are. This new form of arrogance is permeating all levels. It keeps getting worse when it’s become a status symbol to brag how busy one is.

    Next, I want to add separately a study I did triggered by this 5-way post which at first excited me, then brought me back to reality.

  11. Greg Paskill
    Greg Paskill says:

    Ever since encountering the “who you know, not what you know” proposition, I’ve been intrigued by networking. At first I was extremely excited by Jason’s 5-point framework, then his followup about working at “well-branded companies.” So I asked others their viewpoints, and here’s what I got:
    1. Wow! Jason Warner is extremely accomplished. Look at all the top employers he’s worked for and represented. He must be really special if those famous firms wanted him. What a role model to follow in this day where we have so few.

    2. Jason Warner’s approach is as tasteless as teenage and adult conspicuous consumers who spend all day chasing then flashing labels, the bags they carry, the cars they drive, the pants they wear. I have no desire to be like those who present a materialistic name-brand image we must reach to be somebody. How shallow. “Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks,” says the pin I wear proudly at the independent coffee shop. That barista/owner knows something Jason and his entourage don’t – how to truly make a living!

    3. Sounds like another member of the exclusive club. They speak of diversity only to recruit from their circle of friends and chosen campuses. They’d never welcome someone without a degree from a pedigree B-school. Jason is lucky to be a gatekeeper. I wouldn’t be happy working at those companies because they sound like snobs.

    4. Jason Warner sounds like an incredible possibility for a startup like ours. We’d love to have someone like him help mold our team. If he became our Global Talent Acquisition Director, we’d be extremely flattered. At the very least, maybe he’s available for consulting.

    5. Jason Warner wouldn’t be our first choice in the rough world of startups. We once tried a big company name guy, failed miserably, never again!

    6. Jason Warner appears so dedicated the way he lays out his goals and dreams, made the right connections and realized them. I’m impressed reading about him, his generosity and his success gives me hope. I plan to follow his steps to grow my network, and maybe he can be part of mine.

    7. I’ve been let down by others who appeared giving of their time who were only in it for themselves. He may be a nice guy, but I’ve been burned before. Sorry if I paint with broad brush.

    8. He would never be interested in us. We’re small potatoes, we’d bore him.

    So there you have it, multiple interpretations stemming from the same set of undeniable achievements.

    Whenever I come across something that charges me positively about “networking,” I run it through my personal board of directors, for our mutual growth and to avoid “halo effects.” This includes a teambuilding boss who says the secret to his success is NOT hiring through referrals. Never wanting to be accused of favoritism, he assembles his results-producing teams from scratch, his kind of meritocracy. Then again, witness the 65 to 85% success rate of the “hidden job market.”

    One big challenge corporate recruiters face is attracting talented people who have no desire to work for household name companies. The book “The Search” says Google offended some with its not-so-great treatment of applicants (isn’t that a kind of network to build outside the company too?) Recent media interviews with colleague Laszlo Bock say Google is out to correct that, but for some it’s too late. Sure, Google may boast as does Microsoft of its 100,000+ resumes-per-month electronic and physical truckload. However, when it comes to hiring as well as networking, are we really after quantity or quality?

    Yes, those quantity 8 opinions pro- and anti- Cuppa J style networking were from quality personalities (IMHO) of all ages, some who passionately believe they’ve got the Google smarts and others who after heartless rejections from brand-name corporate gods passionately state, “If you can’t join them, beat them!”

    I appreciate this 5-way post and the conversations it sparked within my network of advisors, some whom I haven’t spoken to about this for months/years.

    * * * * * *

    Greg, 

    You’ve raised some thought-provoking responses in your study.  There seems to be a distinct dichotomy of responses; those in favor and those opposed.  Above all else, I would offer that networking must rest on authentic human interactions.  These can’t be faked.  Something I’ve not mentioned but that is important to me personally is that I also choose to network because it makes my life more rich.  Yes, I’ve benefited from networking in my career.  In fact, I can attribute two distinct career moves (from Microsoft to a technology startup and from the (then acquired) startup to Starbucks) that were a direct result of networking.  But I’ve also benefited as my life is filled with relationships that have been forged at the beginning with an authentic human connection based on networking.  As I’ve written on my personal blog, networking is forming 1/4 or 1/2 friendships that have the potential to become full friendships with the right chemistry…pursuing a relationship for an undefined end based on giving value (not taking).

    Those friendships are ones I prize.  
    –Jason

  12. Jonha
    Jonha says:

    Jason,

    I was shocked when you said, be online for an hour per week! I have been battling to prevent myself in too much social media as sometimes I reach the point of being utterly unproductive because of it. I totally agree with the other tips especially about not just going to people because you need them, most of us are guilty of such crime. Over-all, well done.

    Jonha

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