The lifeblood of a professional career is the quality of your network. We get job opportunities through our networks. We get ideas, advice, and customer leads.

But as women, we don’t always take advantage of our networks the way we should. We’re often heads down: knocking out projects at the office and then keeping things running at home. And we tend to ignore the networking that men seem to do so well.

And to our detriment.

If you want to advance your career you have to focus on networking and be explicit about it. That’s why our June gathering was about collecting great networking tips.

To get them, we invited three accomplished women to share their secrets: Wendy Beecham, Managing Principal with the Leadership and Talent Consulting Practice of Korn Ferry; Melissa Daimler, head of global learning and organizational development at Twitter; and Pat Wadors, senior vice president of Global Talent Development at LinkedIn.

They had a lot of great advice that I’ve boiled down into five tips everyone can use.

Integrate Instead of Balance

One of the biggest problems with the concept of work/life balance is that it paints a picture of a neatly partitioned life: we focus on projects at work, on families at home, and save networking for whenever we have time.

Which is either never or at about 1 a.m.

Men don’t have this issue. They use work time to build relationships inside and outside their organizations. Instead of trying to balance networking against their job responsibilities they integrate it into their work.

Our panelists applauded this approach; and they use it rigorously. They take the time, every day, to network with someone on site, in a remote office, or via social media.

“I integrate Twitter and LinkedIn into my day,” said Melissa. “It’s pretty intentional: I follow people I want to learn from and they follow me and we have a conversation.”

Have A Goal

Too many times we view networking as the need to meet a bunch of people. It’s not. It’s about finding the right people to support what you want to achieve – and being very clear with them about what you want.

So when you initiate a networking conversation, ask yourself what you want. A promotion? A strategic introduction? Support for an internal project?

Generally speaking, this is something men do well and it tends to focus a conversation quickly. What’s more, men don’t necessarily have to know someone well to ask for something.

Said another way, women tend to network with people we like while men often seek out those who can get them what they want.

You can see this difference in data collected by LinkedIn. More men than women use the service, according to Pat. What’s more, men tend to have more second- and third-tier connections: people they don’t know well but feel comfortable contacting.

“Women want that real connection first,” she said. “But when you’re in need or seeking an opinion it’s harder to do because you don’t know who to reach out to.”

Do Your Homework

It’s sometimes hard for women to ask for help. It shouldn’t be, but it is. And no one likes hearing no. So how can you increase the chance someone will say yes?

One way is to do your homework. Understand the needs of your networking partner. This is a give-and-take conversation, so find out what they’re passionate about and offer something as you’re asking for what you need.

“I get requests from people that I haven’t heard from in a while and if they personalize the messages and talk about why they’re connecting with me, then I’m excited to hear from them,” said Wendy.

What happens if someone turns you down? Don’t take it personally. Thank the person for their time and always, always offer up yourself to help in the future. They might call you in six months when they’re in need, or remember your graciousness and send someone your way that can help you.

Get To The Point

Melissa drew a knowing laugh when she made a confession. “I’m from the Midwest and I can’t say goodbye to people,” she said. “It’s so hard to just close it down.”

Yet she and others on the panel have learned to have shorter meetings. Thirty minutes, even 15 are not unusual.

I can tell you from my experience, shorter meetings are awesome because they force both parties to come in focused and prepared. What’s more, they can happen on the phone, on a walk to the corporate cafeteria, even in a parking lot.

So as you think about your next networking meeting, remember the time you met with someone who went on and on and couldn’t get to the point. Remember how frustrated you felt. Then boil down your pitch to five minutes so your conversation partner has plenty of time to talk.

Remember: it’s a give-and-take conversation. But if you get to the point there’s a good chance you and partner will leave the meeting happy. Maybe even early.

Use All Your Networks

Your greatest networks may be going untapped – so make sure to use all of them.

For example, let’s say you attend UPWARD events and a couple of after-work mixers. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

“Once a week I make it a point to have lunch with a colleague with whom I don’t interact on a daily basis – or an executive I want to know what’s going on in their business,” said Melissa.

But you don’t need to be in the same location to connect. If you work with an offsite team, try to connect with its members via LinkedIn using a personalized invitation. Schedule a phone call or a video chat to ask about their business that could help you – and offer to do the same.

The point is to be curious and expand your horizons. Because there is a high price to pay if you don’t.

“I can definitely tell which colleagues have stayed connected and networked over the years and those who are comfortable where they are,” said Melissa. “But for this second group, when they do want to expand out it’s a lot harder to get going again.”

Time To Start Is…Now

Not everyone has a mentor like those on our panel. But everyone can take their advice to heart.

So go do it. Take that organized, structured, and results-oriented person that you bring to work each day and apply those traits to your networking.

If you do, you will go as far as your will, your heart, and your body will take you.

 

If you missed our June event, be sure to check out the video

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With only word-of-mouth support UPWARD has soared from 50 members to more than 2,000 in just under two years – and is adding 50-100 members each month. This growth rate underscores the desire of professional women to break down the structural barriers to their success: a lack of access to informal networks, a lack of female role models, and a lack of sponsors who can help move us into the careers we want.

In addition to founding UPWARD, I am a vice-president of Intel Capital, Intel’s venture capital arm, the managing director of software & services investments and the newly formed Intel Capital Diversity Fund, and a voting member of Intel Capital’s investment committee.

To learn more about our upcoming events, click here; to become a member, click here. And to donate to UPWARD, just click here.