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When you are creating a strategy to build your professional network, the first people you might think about building relationships with are the people who, in your estimation, are the clear leaders in their field. You know, the ones you believe will be able to offer you support, guidance, help finding a job in your field and, of course, the ones who are going to the same places in their careers as you hope to. When you are first starting to build your professional network, finding people who can become a mentor is an excellent first step. However, while you are out there building relationships with other professionals and people who share the same world view as you, don't rule out the non-conformist people in your college classes, your nutty co-worker and even the craziest people you know.
It is a rookie mistake to underestimate the importance of building strong connections with the crazies, the self-promoters, the attention seekers and the super intelligent nerds. These are people who march to their own drummers, and they can be some of the most valuable contacts you could have in your professional life. Being a superstar in your career is a difficult task and it certainly isn't one you can manage alone. When you surround yourself with a diverse group of people, all of whom have wildly different skills and outlooks, you increase your odds of being able to find the right person to ask for advice. Although many of these people are often discounted as “weirdos”, they can give you a unique insight and they will almost always see things differently than you do. Which is a good thing.
So, how do you go about building strong relationships with people who are so very different from yourself? It's a good question. As people, we tend to gravitate toward people who are more like us. While that is useful when you want to be surrounded by a network of people who think exactly like you and you really like talking to people who will just agree with anything you say; if your goal is to challenge yourself and grow in your career and as a person, you'll need to have a network of people who will constantly challenge your views. These are the people who can be counted on to always approach things in a unique manner. When I was looking for the answer, I ran across a great article at VC in DC, it suggested that in order to build strong connections with these special people, you will first need to know how to identify them.
Here are a few of the unusual people you should connect with today:
- Visionaries – A little secret about visionaries is that they are almost never recognized for their genius until long after they have become successful. These are the people you know who always seem to be ahead of the trends. These are the same people who are often considered “nut jobs” because they don't really conform and they seem to hold an entirely different world view than the rest of your peers. You can always count on them to give you a fresh point of view. If you are lucky enough to develop a friendship with this type of person, pay attention to what they are interested in. Odds are good that when you find the next “big thing”, they will be the ones leading the expedition.
- Hustlers – Every office has someone like this. Hustlers are hard workers and they always seem to be in the right place at the right time to be successful. She is someone who knows everyone and is always working as hard as she can to get the next promotion. These are the people who come in early and work late. Their passion and dedication is obvious and it pays off. Having a hustler in your network will give you updates about new trends, changes in management focus and new developments within your company. They also have excellent insight and can tell you, fairly accurately, how an idea you are working on will be received by management. In almost any situation, if you are pushing a new idea, having a hustler in your corner will raise your odds of success.
- The Self-promoter – Self-promotion is a touchy topic and many people just don't feel comfortable telling others about their achievements. There seems to be this outdated idea that if you blow your own horn sometimes, people will think that you have a huge ego. Self-promoters don't buy any of that and in fact, they look for opportunities to let someone know how great they are. Building a friendship with a self-promoter can give you an amazing insight into how self-promotion works and how you can raise your star. If you are lucky, they may even decide to promote you while they are at it.
- The Brains – It doesn't matter how smart you think you are, there will come a time when you will meet, or even work with, someone who is clearly way more intelligent than you. These people are amazing people to know. Let's be honest, who wouldn't want to have a few very smart people to ask for help when they are faced with a difficult problem? The tricky thing with brains is that they can be hard to spot. They don't go around bragging about their skills, so it will be up to you to identify and build a friendship with them. Being around a super smart person can actually make you smarter! If that isn't enough, they are also, typically, more than happy to help out with any sort of problem.
When creating your strategy for building a stronger professional network, make sure that you aren't playing it too safe. You never know when you may need to bounce an idea off of someone who looks at the world completely differently than you. No matter what industry you enter, if you start building real friendships with the people who are often overlooked and considered “weird”, it just might be the smartest career move you will ever make.
Do you have many “office nut jobs” in your network? Let me know what you think in the comments.
If you are ready to start looking for an entry-level job, take a look at CollegeJobBank for the best entry-level jobs.
By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer for CollegeJobBankBlog. Along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.