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Getting ahead in your career - it all comes down to this

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Sheri Welsh

Want to have a great career? Then always be working on your next job.

Wait. What? Right now you're thinking, "She can't be serious. I love the job I have and besides - between my constant travel, master's program and visiting the family in _____________ (you fill in the blank), I’ve got no time for that."

Ok - if that's you, I'm not here to judge. (And keep in mind I'm not suggesting you are always LOOKING for a job - that's entirely different.) But I will tell you this: If you want to have a successful career, then you must stay focused on a key element that it takes to build that career - developing and maintaining a network of contacts.

I’m a natural networker. The Gallup Strengths Finder tells me that Woo (winning others over) is in my top five strengths - and so is Relator. The two combined have given me an incredible edge in developing and maintaining my network, and those connections have paid off for me tremendously over the years. As I reflect on what it takes to build a successful career today, I realize that more than ever, the same basic tenet still holds true - it's not what you know, it's who you know.

Why is that network so important? Namely, because the world is changing rapidly. With advances in technology and a highly connected global marketplace, "work" is evolving at a pace like never before in our history. The job you hold today will most certainly not be the job you're doing when you retire - likely at age 70! The company that you work at in the next 10 years may not even be started yet and the industry you end your career in may not even be thought of yet.

Change is inevitable. And the best way to navigate your career through the evolution of the global marketplace is to get a little help from a friend. A well-developed network of contacts will prove to be invaluable when you find yourself in a career that appears to be going nowhere or with a company whose time has come and gone. It's great to have some peeps to reach out to for help and advice. The "who you know" concept doesn't mean you'll be handed a great job, but that your contacts can provide you with insight into companies, careers and industries you may have never previously considered or understood. And in addition, they know people and have connections that you don't have with the ability to make incredible introductions for you to meet people and opportunities that would never have otherwise come your way.

And please don't mistake this suggestion as a selfish, one-sided attempt to use others to get ahead. You can and MUST be just as valuable and important to those in your network as they are to you by working to help and support them in return. Successful contacts and connections are built when there is give AND take. Develop your network by being someone who builds others up, returns calls promptly, willingly provides helpful information and follows up on email requests in hours not days. Be willing to share what you know and who you know with others in order to help them succeed, and in turn you will find that when you need them - they will be there for you.

All too often I work with highly talented people who find themselves in an unanticipated career or job change. One of the first things I ask them is who have they reached out to for help in their search and I am always surprised when I hear that they have no network to call on. Don't let that happen to you!

I hope this concept has given you some things to think about as you work to advance your career. In my next post, I'll share some great tips for how to develop a great network and become a trusted, reliable source of help for others too.

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