Reinventing your career: How seasoned professionals can network for success
Whether you’re looking for a late-career change or to network in retirement, reinvigorating old connections and forging new ones is both possible and necessary in the golden years.
As former executives and current executive mentors, Tanya Lauer and Janet Fogarty know a thing or two about healthy, up-to-date networks.
Here’s how (and why) it’s never too late in the game to work on yours.
Do you still need to network?
Many people work hard to build their networks early in their careers, then settle into a comfortable place where they feel they don’t need to actively reach out anymore. But your circumstances can change at any time, and it’s smart to keep your connections current.
“As you are more tenured in a career path, networking becomes even more paramount because you experience more complex situations, and the larger your network, the larger your ability to find the right people that may be able to help you,” Lauer says.
A robust network is the key to agility no matter what point you’re at in your career, from recent graduates to seasoned executives. Networking in retirement keeps you engaged with your passions and may even lead to enticing new opportunities for “unretirement.”
“We should always be trying to manifest what we want out of life,” Fogarty says. Keeping on top of your network makes that possible.
Rekindle old Connections
If you’re not a natural, “networking” can be a term that inflicts anxiety and dread. But to Lauer, networking can be as easy as getting back in touch with old contacts, acquaintances and even friends.
“So many people underestimate the ease of networking,” she says. “They make it seem like this big overwhelming thing, and it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as picking up the phone.”
One benefit of reconnecting with old acquaintances and coworkers is that they each have their own networks that, by extension, you may be able to tap into. Even if your direct contact can’t help you, they likely know someone who can. It’s what Lauer calls “the flywheel effect.”
In Lauer’s experience, many people fear the awkwardness of reaching out to someone they haven’t talked to in a while, but she says that fear is unwarranted.
“People read too much into it and stress about it too much,” she says. “But if you were at Target and you ran into an old coworker, it wouldn’t feel awkward. You would be excited to see them and you’d have a conversation. It’s the same thing for networking.”
Optimize your LinkedIn
For Fogarty, LinkedIn is an extremely useful networking tool — when it’s used correctly. If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, it’s a great way to find connections you have lost touch with and create new ones.
But it’s easy to overuse LinkedIn to the point where your connections list gets bloated. Instead, be selective about only accepting invitations from people you know, have a reason to connect with, or would be willing to help.
“It’s not about the numbers,” Fogarty says. “If someone contacts me for help, my name and connection need to mean something.”
If you’re looking to make a transition, search for people with whom you share a common interest or passion. Have a good reason to connect — don’t go in to get something from them.
People are wary of outreach that feels transactional. Instead, look for connections of those you want to know — part of your extended network — to start an introduction. Do informational interviews with no agenda except to learn more about the new field.
“Change your profile to manifest who you are right now and where you’re going so that it’s not old and stale,” Fogarty says. “It’s part of building your brand.”
Actively creating and engaging with content on LinkedIn is a great way to establish and maintain a presence in other people’s minds.
“In the business world, LinkedIn is the social marketplace,” Fogarty says. “Get out there with stories, get out there with comments, and support other people. I think that’s one of the best ways to start getting known again.”
Get involved locally
Never underestimate the worth of networking on a local level and meeting people in your community. Joining organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and Lions Club can open doors to relationships with like-minded people and local leaders. There are likely groups that exist specifically for business and networking in your area, too.
But any interaction can be a chance to expand your circle. In Fogarty’s opinion, it’s best not to think of it as networking at all.
“One of the things I do with people when I’m coaching or helping them is getting them to see that every conversation they have should be meaningful,” she says. With that mindset, every new acquaintance can turn out to be a worthwhile connection. Be giving and you shall receive.
“Whether you’re at a board meeting or you’re at a Habitat for Humanity, you’re just meeting people,” Lauer adds.
Become a mentor
Being a mentor involves meeting lots of successful, interesting people with their expansive networks. As Vistage Chairs, Lauer and Fogarty know that the relationship between mentor and mentee is one of the strongest connections you can form.
“It’s mutually beneficial,” Lauer says. It’s also genuine. A good executive mentor addresses both the business and personal aspects of their mentee’s life, building trust and a meaningful bond. This means that when your mentee feels confident enough to proceed on their own, they’ll likely stay in touch and put you in contact with other potential mentees.
Given the inherent turnover aspect of being a mentor, that relationship matters. And when you’re in the mindset of a mentor, you’re always open to new connections. “Be known as a supporter of everybody all the time,” Fogarty says.
Networking is more than professional growth; it’s about building meaningful relationships that can lead to new opportunities. It is a vital skill at any point in your career — from the C-suite to retirement.