From Conversations To Connections: How To Work Your Network

A little over a year ago, I left my job, sold my possessions, and left New Orleans to embark on a journey that ended with an entirely different destination than I had anticipated. I hope to share some of the many things I learned on this journey over the course of a few articles. But first, I want to talk about the value of your network, because I could not have made it through such a year of change and succeeded without the help of my network.

When my boyfriend and I first left New Orleans last year to travel to South America, we had planned to move to Denver when we returned. As it turns out, life has a funny way of ignoring your plans...we are now Chicago residents! In the weeks leading up to our departure from New Orleans, I reached out to as many people as possible to learn about Denver and the job market there. Although I wouldn’t be moving for another six months, I wanted to use my New Orleans network as best I could before leaving.

I started with coworkers, friends and old professors, asking who they knew in Denver and shared a sense of what I was looking for. Although I couldn’t specifically define the job I wanted, I could share the job attributes I was seeking. Beyond the people I knew personally, social media provided countless opportunities to learn more. I followed different local professional organizations on Twitter and LinkedIn. Eventually, some former professors connected me with other alumni working in my industry in Denver. I reached out to these folks and scheduled phone calls to talk about their experiences in the city, job openings they might know of, or any advice they’d be willing to share. I learned a lot from those conversations. When I returned from traveling abroad, I felt prepared to begin the job search, equipped with the knowledge that even though I hadn’t even been to Colorado before, my network was established.

As they say, life’s what happens when you’re busy making plans. Based on a job offer my boyfriend received, we discussed forgoing Denver in favor of Chicago, and decided there would more opportunity for both of us there. Which meant I needed to start the process all over again. Luckily, I already knew what I needed to do.

I reached out to my network again. A conversation with a former professor turned into an email connection with a friend who had a former colleague in Chicago. She agreed to meet me for coffee. Coffee became an interview; an interview became a job offer; and that job offer became my current position. Every day, I face an exciting new challenge where I can learn and be passionate about what I’m doing.

My job hunt in Chicago itself was incredibly short, thanks to my network. And a network is aptly named – your connections don’t end with your own network, but extend into their networks, and on and on.

Whether you're looking to make a move (be it city or job) right now or may  want to down the road, it never hurts to reach out to your network and maintain your relationships. That means keep in contact with your current connections and establish new ones when the opportunity presents itself. It doesn't take much effort to send an email, make a call, even comment on Facebook or Twitter. You can share an article that might interest people in your network, check in and let them know what you're currently up to, share an exciting project you're working on, or even just say hello and see what they’re up to. If you end up needing your network, you don't want your ask for help to be the first time they have heard from you in a year. And again, despite your best-made plans, you never know where life will take you…but you can count on your network to support you when you get there.