Advancing

The Most Important People in Your Network

network

Everyone knows how crucial a good network is to a successful career. But if you’ve let your network languish or if you don’t have a very strong one, take heart.

As valuable as contacts that you have known and worked with for years can be, the most important people in your network are often those you met most recently. So if you are gearing up for a job search or plan to start a business or side gig in the new year, it’s time to rev up your networking.

It may sound counterintuitive, but the people you’ve met recently might be most likely to lead to new opportunities. Here’s why:

Ever get a call from someone you knew a few years ago telling you about a job in their company and think, well, that’s great, but it’s not entirely right for me. Most likely it is similar to a job you had before–a lateral move, and a lateral move from the job you used to have.

You have changed. While the folks you have worked with years ago might know the most about your skills, character and personality, all of us are always changing. You have continued to learn and grow professionally–at least, you should have–in the months and years since you worked with them. Your goals might have evolved as well.

What is going to work for you right now is who you are professionally at this moment, says Lilly-Marie Lamar, a career coach with Ivy Exec. You want to find an opportunity that matches who you are at this moment professionally and personally, not the version of you  in the minds of people you have known for years.

You are top of mind. If you make a new connection, and make a good impression, you have a real chance to develop that relationship in a way that represents you well. We often think of the people we have just met before we think of someone from the past when we hear of a an opportunity.

You are meeting another networker. Often when we are networking we have the most success with people who are also open to meeting new people and making new bonds. When folks are actively networking, they are in the habit of give-and-take. Many people who have been in the same job for a long time aren’t in the same mindset. While we all know we should be networking all the time, most people fire up their socializing and networking only when they begin to think about moving on or starting their own business or side gig.

The people in your network you have known for years are still important to your career, of course. Relationships that last a long time are strong because they are based on trust. Those former bosses and colleagues make great references for hiring managers as wll.

But if you want to make the most of your network, both old and new, be sure to keep your key relationships active. Let your former colleagues know what is going on in your professional life now and then, and keep their needs in mind as well, whether it is referring them to potential clients, inviting them to industry events, or simply sharing articles or news that might help their careers.

And then get out and meet someone new.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.