Over 10 years ago, in my very first brand project, I worked on creating a new company name for the consultancy where I worked in Washington, DC. During the early days of the project when we were brainstorming ideas for a new name, the president of the company placed a book on my desk about Winged Migration. He told me to flip through it to see if it might trigger any interesting company name concepts.
I didn’t initially see the relevance, but I later learned that migratory birds’ V-shaped flight formations represented a very inspiring principle about the importance of connection and teamwork. I share this story with you because it illustrates a few important points:
- Great ideas can come from anywhere. I never imagined how a book on avian migration would feed into the final name we eventually chose: Avalere.
- The company you keep can have a direct impact on your trajectory. It turns out that flying in a group instead of flying solo boosts the efficiency of flying birds. When flying together, the aerodynamics are such that drag is reduced by up to 65%, increasing flight range by 70%.
- Your network can play a critical role in your career evolution . . . if you allow it to.
You see, I would never have had this job at this company, eventually rebranded to Avalere Health, if it not been for a connection. I landed this role after I withdrew from medical school, during a time when my life was turbulent, when I was uncertain how to make the pivot from medicine to business. So I started networking–something that became a habit of mine during times of transition. I began with alumni from my undergraduate university, and as luck would have it, one alumnus was having lunch with the president of this company a few days after I contacted her. She kindly offered to pass my CV along to him. That got the ball rolling, and within a week, I had an interview lined up.
I believe in the power of connections
While this could involve going to actual networking events, I’m not solely talking about the act of schmoozing at cocktail parties or anything that involves filling out a “Hello, my name is” name badge. I’m talking about establishing and maintaining connections with people in your life, both personally and professionally.
Your network is the single most effective catalyst to creating career change
There have been numerous occasions when a connection has had a direct impact on the trajectory of my career. And in every case, I had to make the intentional effort to uncover, establish, and maintain each of these connections. To further illustrate the point, here are a few more examples of how conversations with contacts and connections have directly played a role in my career moves:
- When I lived in Hawaii, I chatted with my bus driver on my way to work every morning. One day, when I was pondering a job change, he threw out a “crazy” idea of me becoming a radio news anchor. He liked my voice, and he noticed I enjoyed talking about the news. It initially seemed far-fetched to me. The next thing I know, I connect with an alumnus from my university working as a journalist at the local paper. As luck would have it, she knew the general manager of the National Public Radio affiliate in Honolulu and put me in touch with him. A couple months later, I was on-air, given the privilege of hosting the afternoon news program there in the Hawaiian Islands. This role eventually planted the seeds for my passions for public speaking and brand communications.
- When I was pondering whether to continue working in my brand role at Avalere or make the leap to apply to business school that year, a contact I had just met that summer who had just completed his MBA convinced me to go for it. The next year, I began my MBA program at the University of Michigan, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That same guy ended up becoming a lifelong friend who, by the way, weighed in on the recent rebranding of my coaching company.
- When I was thinking about moving from the US to the UK, a Twitter post I responded to on a whim ended up leading me to a recruiter who eventually placed me into my Senior Brand Manager role at General Mills several years later.
You just never know how things will transpire. You never know who will play a role in creating a breakthrough in your career. You never know what seed you plant will eventually blossom into a huge opportunity in ways you couldn’t imagine possible. And you never know which people you bump into will eventually become a client, business partner, or investor in your ideas.
If you feel like your network has not done much for you, my challenge to you is to not give up. Keep making and building connections. When it doubt, connect. Help others whenever you can. Because you just never know how your paths will cross again. My challenge for you . . .
- If you’re thinking about making a career change, start to have informational interviews with people in your target industry. Some great advice on this from Frances Bridges, Contributing writer to Forbes to get you started.
- If you feel like it’s been a while since you fed your network with some new connections, get yourself to a networking event. Some good tips from Wall Street Journal contributing writer Elaine Wherry to help you out.
- If you are perfectly happy with your state of affairs, reconnect with a long-lost professional contact of yours. We all know how refreshing it is when someone reaches out when they DON’T need anything.
If you’re looking for some inspirational networking events to attend, The Drum recently posted a list of the Top 12 UK Networking events to meet start-ups. If you already have a great network, but you’re looking for ways to more effectively maintain your network, here are 3 simple ways you can do this.
I’d love to hear some of your success stories when it comes to networking. Both how others have helped you and how you have helped others. The more examples people in our community can read, the more inspired they’ll be to network themselves. Thanks!
When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering at his rock perhaps a hundred times without so much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it — but all that had gone before. -Jacob Riis