The Power of Networking: Key to Building Leadership Capacity and Employment Prospects

The connections we make can help us not just broaden our own network but further add value to the organizations, teams, and associations of which we are already members.

Kayla Moran

University of Tennessee College of Law

Class of 2022

Many of us think of networking as a way to get our next job and how to move forward in our careers. That may be the primary purpose of networking. But our ability to make connections (and then leverage them)—whether for employment or skill building—and create new opportunities through these connections also are building blocks to great leadership. 

The connections we make can help us not just broaden our own network but further add value to the organizations, teams, and associations of which we are already members. As we grow professionally and move around from company to company, our network allows us to build the team of human resources and skill sets we have curated through our connections. Our network also gives us access to information and ideas that will improve our work. These additional benefits of developing a network and using it strategically, equip us with the attributes of a great leader. At the end of this post, I have linked to a few great articles discussing these benefits and skills in more depth.

This follows up on my previous post, The Power of Networking, in which I described how important networking is and how to do it effectively. There, I shared a few ways to network through LinkedIn and other professional social media by going to events and sending emails or direct messages. In this post, I share my strategies and tips on creating a LinkedIn page that reflects both your accomplishments and your individual leadership capacity and how to respond when you get an informational interview or official interview!

The first strategy is setting up a profile that showcases your resume and your interests. Your cover photo and profile picture should represent you best. For the profile photo, use a professional headshot or a high-quality picture in professional attire—formal, but not necessarily a suit. The cover photo should be another quality picture that represents what you currently do and/or the industry you’re in. For example, I run my own business, so my cover photo is my logo.

Next is your heading. Showcase your current role or degree program and any significant leadership positions you have by including them in this important part of the page. Include your most impressive role or position in the heading, while adding the others you want readers to know about to your featured section. 

After your heading is an “about you” section. This is your chance to share your professional story in your own words. Introduce yourself, your career interests, and your work experience. Also include any projects you are currently working on that you want to highlight! As I start a new endeavor, I add it here as well to continue my professional story. You can work this section to your liking and tie it in to what you want to do next, if desired. Demonstrations of continuous action/engagement and your ability to adapt your skill set can prove very helpful, and highlight your leadership or leadership potential.

The featured section comes next. Here, you can share an accomplishment, upcoming event, or anything you want to bring attention to. For example. I highlight my website and podcast in this part of my LinkedIn page. Your activity is below this so make sure to engage with your connections and companies, brands and people you follow, so those viewing your profile can see who you are connecting with actively. This is a great way to showcase your interests, hobbies, and personality traits.

The next section of your profile covers your work experience, education, and philanthropic and other volunteer efforts. Include all relevant employment since high school graduation. However, if you participated in a prestigious or relevant program throughout high school (especially if the program or high school has wide recognition), do include it. Detail your duties and positions in each endeavor as best and succinctly as possible. Make sure the format is consistent and cohesive, and check for proper spelling, good grammar, accurate punctuation, and other similar errors. This also is the section in which you share any awards and accomplishments received at each employer or institution, and honors received in a volunteer position, if any.

For philanthropic and other volunteer efforts, share the two or three top organizations to which you dedicate time and effort (and money, if applicable). Again, this is a great way for you to show your personality traits and your character. I highly recommend adding this feature as a talking point for interviews and (in general) making more connections. By listing the organizations to which you donate time and effort, you may find others who are interested in or engaged in activities with the same organizations!

Next are the skills & endorsements and accomplishments sections. Here, your connections can endorse you for the skills you list, and if you take LinkedIn Learning courses, you can feature them. You can also list your language skills here, which (as participants in a global economy) are important proficiencies.

The final section of your LinkedIn profile presents your interests. Your interests may include sports teams, newspapers you subscribe to, or companies you enjoy supporting. Again, this is a great way to bring out who you are and signal what you believe in. Another great talking point in interviews! 

Now that you have a great profile, let’s start connecting!

LinkedIn will help you to connect with people you may not yet know by introducing you to individuals and organizations affiliated with your resume and interests. Connect with everyone you know, and then look through their connections and link in with the people of interest to you! Follow brands and companies in which you are interested and share the articles and posts that resonate with you. This activity pushes your profile out to new potential connections. 

Now that you are getting connected and engaging with your network, lets leverage those connections! You can set your LinkedIn profile to “Open To Work,” so those who visit your profile will know that you are open to new employment possibilities. As you connect with people by linking in with them, do more than merely press the “connect” button.  Say “hi”! Build rapport with your new connections, and whenever they post or share an article, new opportunity, or project, engage with them. Congratulate them, say you’re interested and want to learn more, etc. 

Building rapport is so important whether you are searching for collaborators or jobs. You can reach out to employment connections with a message like the one set forth below.

“Hi, ­­____. I hope you’re doing well! 

I am currently [state what you are up to professionally] and am looking to [describe what you’re seeking]. I see you are involved in [organization, company, etc. you’re interested in], and I would love to chat with you sometime, via Zoom or a phone call, to discuss how I might pursue [opportunity]. Please let me know your availability for [set window and clearly state your availability – make it easy for them!]. I look forward to hearing from you! 

Best, ___”

Use a variation of this for any connection you want to speak with or are looking to have an informational interview with. A message like this can lead to future interviews with an organization, introductions to someone at your desired organization, or even receipt of an offer to join a new organization. This is how you leverage connections to build leadership and gain employment, fostering relationships with the people you aspire to become and seeking what it takes to get there. Asking new LinkedIn connections about their career trajectories, connecting to their networks, and always being open to new opportunities to meet people and new experiences—these are always important foundations to leadership.

There is no set path to leadership or employment opportunities. Everyone has a different experience, and you will want to diversify your toolkit and background by trying multiple avenues and learning from various people. Adopt the skills and tendencies that work for you; leave the rest.  But keep evolving, keep implementing new things, and keep putting yourself out there.

LinkedIn can be so much fun, and because it is behind a screen, it is a little less intimidating and pressured for those who struggle with social interactions. Do not be hesitant or afraid to send a message! You never know who will answer and where the response will lead.

Building a network is going to take time, trial and error. So, be patient! Once you get a response, an informational interview, or an official employment interview, do your research! Explore the respondent’s LinkedIn profile, look up the person’s official resume and background on their company website, take notes on talking points relating to things you want to learn more about, and identify a few questions for them. Also, be ready to answer questions about yourself, your objectives, and even how this person may be able to help you. Go into the meeting calm, informed, prepared, and open to possibilities. Dress professionally; your attire often can be informal, but it should still be business casual. Be mindful of the interview setting and be polite and on time. Typically, a first meeting will be a coffee or lunch get-together or Zoom call, if the meeting is an informational interview. As a result, the overall environment is a little more relaxed. If the meeting is an official interview, it pays to dress in professional business clothing (and bring your resume and other qualifying materials—for example, a writing sample or portfolio of relevant work—with you).

I wish you all the best in your pursuit of the opportunities to come. The more you try networking for leadership and employment, the more natural and enjoyable it will become.  Be open to what’s waiting for you.

Happy networking!

As in my previous post, please connect with me here, I am always open to connecting with new people and building my network. We never know where the people we meet today will take us tomorrow! Here are those articles I mentioned above, as well:

https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/top-6-rules-leadership-networking/;

https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/importance-of-networking-in-leadership;

https://hbr.org/2007/01/how-leaders-create-and-use-networks.

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