They say it’s lonely at the top. Yet research by our company shows that senior executives have the highest level of workplace happiness, compared to other groups of professionals. For some executives, on-the-job happiness may be a positive side effect of maintaining a strong professional network.
Professional connections often play a critical role in a person’s ability to move up the corporate ladder — and to continue finding new opportunities after reaching the highest rungs.
Employers will go to great lengths to ensure they select individuals who possess the needed skills and are the right fit for the organization. Hiring managers often rely on their internal networks to help them identify strong candidates for these positions. They look to people they know and trust to make introductions to these individuals.
Building your network and raising your visibility
You should assess the strength of your professional network before launching an executive job search. This will help to ensure you are well-positioned to make connections that could potentially lead to referrals for executive positions. Ideally, your network should include:
- Professionals at all levels across many fields, and not just industry peers or former colleagues.
- Influencers in your industry or profession. (Connecting with these high-profile contacts isn’t easy. This article from Entrepreneur offers some useful tips for doing it right.)
- Reputable staffing experts who specialize in placing professionals in executive-level roles.
Networking takes time and should be an ongoing process. You’ll find over time that your network will grow organically, as your direct contacts introduce you to their contacts. However, you should always be expanding your network actively and strategically, both online and offline.
Here are five ways to build a strong professional network and raise your visibility as a potential candidate for executive-level roles:
1. Join (or deepen your involvement in) a professional organization
More than likely, since you’re working in or aiming to secure an executive role, you belong to a professional organization that is relevant to your industry or profession. But how would you rate your level of engagement with that organization? After all, there’s being a member, and then, there’s being an active member.
By attending events, you can make new contacts and meet influencers in person. Presenting at conferences and contributing articles to the association’s publications can sharpen your skills and heighten your visibility. As a member of a professional organization, you also will likely have access to professional development opportunities that can help you build or refine leadership abilities.
2. Find ways to give back
Many professionals overlook two simple ways to strengthen their professional network and raise their profile for an executive job search:
- Mentoring: Employers like to see that you’re willing to become a mentor and help others in your field to learn and improve in their careers. It's a clear sign of leadership.
- Volunteering: Giving back to your local community is always a great way to make new contacts. Keep in mind, too, that many employers today emphasize social responsibility. If you’re looking to be a business leader, it helps that you can show you’re already involved in these types of activities and understand their importance.
Mentoring and volunteering require your time and commitment, of course, but they can be very rewarding experiences on many levels.
3. Reach out to staffing specialists
As discussed earlier, your professional network should include reputable recruiters and other staffing experts who understand your industry and its specializations. These contacts should also have a proven track record of placing highly skilled candidates in executive roles.
You’ll want to make staffing experts part of your online network, but also make the point to meet them before starting your search. By learning more about you and your career goals, they will be better able to identify the right opportunities for you.
4. Ask for recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn
Don’t be shy about asking contacts in your professional network to write on LinkedIn about their positive experiences working with you. Their recommendations can serve as powerful marketing tools, particularly in an executive job hunt.
However, be strategic with your requests. Target contacts who can speak most knowledgeably, enthusiastically and persuasively about your skills, qualifications and work ethic. When soliciting a testimonial, write a personalized note explaining why you value that person’s support. The more effort you put into crafting a gracious request, the more time and thought people will put into their recommendations.
Ask for endorsements, too. When someone agrees to publicly endorse your skills and abilities, be sure to promptly express your appreciation with a short message. (Keep in mind that some people may not be able to provide recommendations or endorsements due to their employer’s policies.)
5. Work on a consulting basis
You can also expand your professional network through consulting. On every assignment, you will have an opportunity to cultivate professional relationships with clients and peers who may help you advance your career.
Companies rely on consultants to augment their core teams, serve in interim management roles, and assist with specialized projects. And research by our company found that eight in 10 CFOs — 83 percent — view consulting as an attractive career for senior-level accounting and finance executives.
Interested in the consulting path? Search our site for opportunities.