The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How can you find career support outside of your friends and family?” is written by Jan Plutzer, COO at Apcera.
There is no shortage of career advice today. But throughout my 25 years in the workforce, the most valuable resource for me wasn’t a book, an advice column, or a professional mentor. It was the professional network that I cultivated over the years.
Though many in the workforce seek out a formal mentor-mentee relationship, I don’t think these are as valuable as formal and informal networking groups. The one-on-one nature of the formal mentorship might work for some, but I’ve found it can be somewhat limiting, vs. getting a broad spectrum of advice from multiple people.
My ever-expanding network of current and former co-workers, bosses, employees, business partners, and industry peers has been my rock. These are the individuals I turn to when I need a sounding board about new career opportunities, assistance with a work project, or guidance on a vexing question. They know me well—my accomplishments, strengths, and weaknesses—which makes it easier for them to tailor their advice to whatever issue I’m dealing with. Plus, the friendship and respect we’ve developed for each other over the years encourages them to be brutally honest. Rather than just telling me what I want to hear, I can trust that they will tell me what I need to hear.
These connections are so valuable that I choose to foster the relationships on a regular basis. Every month or so, I meet with core groups of former co-workers and bosses, who I count among my closest professional friends and are the ones I turn to when I have big decisions to consider. They helped me when I had an opportunity to leave a well-paying, prestigious job to join a very early-stage startup. While I expected my network to talk me out of the new endeavor, they didn’t. They understood me and tailored their advice to what they know motivates me and meets my professional goals. They asked good, thought-provoking questions. They don’t hesitate to tell me when they think I’m wrong.
Formal networking groups can also be helpful in connecting you with people in similar roles. I belong to a women’s COO group through Watermark, and the extraordinary group of women with whom I interact have been exceptional in sharing their own experiences and offering advice. I always leave a networking meeting inspired and full of new ideas. And if you can’t find a networking group in your area, try starting one. It doesn’t need to be a huge group, so long as you’re connecting with professionals you know can be trusted.
Cultivating or joining a networking group requires thoughtful investment of time. To build meaningful relationships that last, you must be willing to invest the time to listen to members’ concerns, provide support and advice, and celebrate their achievements. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in. There are no shortcuts.
While my professional friends and those participating in my networking groups have been a tremendous support to me, I have also learned to trust myself. Ultimately, no one knows me better than me. I have realized how important it is to rely on my own judgment, experiences, motivations, expectations, and dreams.
Self-awareness and intuition are powerful forces. While some may say that relying on intuition is counter-intuitive to informed decision-making, I disagree. That intuition is your authentic voice of reason, and you must listen to it.
All in all, if you take the time to cultivate and leverage your professional network, join or create a formal networking group of peers, and most importantly, trust your instincts, you will have all of the support you need to take your career to the next level.