A recently laid off executive had her first meeting with a career transition advisor.  When they finally got around to talking about the size of her professional network, the conversation went something like us:

working with recruiters

Q. What is your underlying philosophy for professional networking?

A.  What do you mean?

Q.  How many LinkedIn contacts do you have?  How big is your overall professional network?

A.  Between 350 and 500.

Q.  Give me a breakdown of who is your network by category?

A.  Silence…

Q.  How do you use your network?

A.  Silence…

Here is my take on those issues:

Underlying philosophy for professional networking – Networking is an important and time-consuming process.  Building a robust network can be beneficial for professional development and in the event of a career setback, an important resource to help you in your job search, but this purpose is not, should not be, the underlying reason for networking.   The most successful business networkers will tell you that sharing information and helping others should guide your intentions.  The more you give, the more you receive.

How big is your network on LinkedIn? – The size of your networkshould be driven by your career strategy. If your goal is to connect with professionals of similar experience and interests, then a realistic size is 1,500 to 3,000 connections. That is a manageable size to leverage to achieve your goals.  If you are selling products, services or books and the Internet is a key market driver, then a larger network is appropriate. Unless you have plenty of staff support, or a lot of extra time on your hands, trying to manage a network of 15,000 to 25,000 that some LinkedIn Open Networkers proudly crow about is simply not practical. Bigger is not always better.  The bigger your garden, the more time and energy you must invest to cultivate it. 

Be strategic regarding the people you include in your network – If you are a digital marketing expert focusing on retail, for example, connecting with a financial planner is Seattle or an Orthodontist in Hoboken probably does not make a lot of sense.  Develop a strategic networking plan and stick with it.  Know who is in your network.  Career strategies sometimes must be adjusted so do not hesitate to weed and prune your garden of contacts – those who are not engaged or no longer align with your goals.

Using your network – How you use your network is driven by your networking strategy.  A good rule to remember is to seek out those colleagues who can provide mutually beneficial value. A productive and rewarding network is built on thick mutually beneficial relationships in which your colleagues feel comfortable in reaching out to you for advice, or because they want to share with you.  The bigger your network, the harder it is to be effective in leveraging its value.  If you are looking for a job, the one way you DO NOT use your network is to ask the contact to help you find a job, even if they are a recruiter.  That approach rarely works.