3 ingredients needed to build a successful professional network

I’m a strong believer in professional networking, as you may have guessed from my long-term obsession with LinkedIn. I was one of the first 50K people to join LinkedIn in 2003; I started writing about the company as soon as I started blogging in 2008, and I worked there for over four years.

But I’m surprised that so few people seem to do it right. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I feel I have a basic idea of how it works.

Many of us value our second-degree networks— that is, our connections’ connections. But when we collect connections like Pokemons, we stop taking those connections seriously.

Here’s how I believe professional networking really works: strong connections to credible individuals who themselves have many connections. Let’s unpack that.

First, strong connections. It’s not how many people you know, but how many people know you well enough to vouch for you. Ideally they’ve worked closely with you. But what really matters is that they can and will risk their credibility for you.

Second, credible individuals. People willing to to risk their credibility for you need to have credibility in the first place. And credibility is contextual, usually limited to a domain or industry. You want strong connections to people whose credibility is relevant to your professional identity.

Third, the size of their networks. Finally, size matters: an individual’s credibility scales across even weak connections, so more is better.

To summarize, you want to cultivate strong connections to credible individuals who themselves have many connections. That’s neither easy nor quick: there really is no shortcut to developing a valuable professional network.

But it starts with your own strong connections. Develop a taste for credible people, seek opportunities to work with them, and work hard to earn their trust and respect. You won’t develop a strong professional network overnight, but your investments will yield long-term return.

So keep calm and build strong connections.

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