Networking isn't just for finding new jobs. Your network within an organization can often be even more valuable than your external network.
Of all the skills covered in The Career Toolkit: Essential Skill for Success That No One Taught You, networking is probably the one that people have heard the most about and yet put the least time and effort into developing. One aspect of networking that is very commonly missed is the internal network.
Most people think about networking when they want to find a job. For many, networking and job hunting are part and parcel. I would liken this to phone calls and cell phones. Most people don’t think of calling without thinking of a phone (traditional landlines or nowadays cell phones), but if you only think about your cell phone for making calls, then you’re missing out on everything else it can do.
You can use your network to find a new job. But if you only think of your network for that purpose, then there is little value to networking within your organization. Consider all the other things an internal network, meaning one within your current organization, can do for you.
Networking certainly remains one of the best ways to find a new job; but, like your cell phone, it can do so much more than one thing.
Your network can alert you to internal job opportunities. If you’re at a large organization there may be jobs coming available that you can apply for. Sure, they’ll eventually be listed on the company website, but getting in early is just as valuable for internal jobs as for external jobs.
The ”job” doesn’t even have to be a job. It may be a project ramping up that will need people from your department to be part of it. Or maybe it’s a committee focused on an area you want to get involved in. Perhaps there’s another team who needs help; you can provide it and you’d be interested in working with this other team as it would grow you in a direction you want to go in your career. In these latter cases it’s not a new title or role, but simply an opportunity. Proactively approaching your manager and expressing interest is a far better option than hoping she chooses you, especially if three other people approached her for the role already because they heard about it from their networks long before it became public knowledge.
Your network can also alert you to changes in the company. If you have a friend on the sales team, he might alert you to how the company is doing that quarter. Did the company just lose a big customer? Are sales in a slump or is the company beating expectations? That may give you a heads up on whether certain projects may get the green light or be killed. If sales are way down, you know not to waste political capital fighting a battle on a project that’s going to be canceled at the end of the quarter anyway. Instead, you can be the team player and acquiesce, gaining points while knowing the outcome is moot as the project will soon be shut down.
It can also help in political fights. If someone is putting out a negative signal about you or your project, you have your internal network there to counter the narrative. The larger your network, the larger the signal.
Even beyond any specific opportunity it can just help you get a better sense of what is happening in a company. The more people you know the more signals you get. Consider an analogy to your body. You can function with diminished senses, for example partial hearing loss, or losing the sense of touch in your left hand; but having all the signals is certainly easier. We take having all the signals as the default state in our bodies, and only notice if we see signal degradation. Unfortunately, we see our workplace the opposite way, starting with limited signals and seeing more signals as a bonus, rather than the norm. When you do build out your internal network and get those signals, you can become so much more effective since most everyone else will still be playing with blinders on.
Networking certainly remains one of the best ways to find a new job; but, like your cell phone, it can do so much more than one thing. If you’re not creating and using your internal network, you’re closing the door on opportunity.
Have people told you networking is important? What about communication, teamwork, and leadership? For all the lip service given them, how much formal education did you have on such essential skills? Probably little, if any. What are these skills and why haven't they been taught to students?