Is Your Network Working for You? A Simple Test

Last Updated Apr 13, 2010 10:35 AM EDT

Is your business network working for you? Here's a simple test, borrowed from the work of Noshir Contractor, professor of behavioral sciences at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
  1. On a piece of paper write down your most important business contacts -- your personal board of directors -- to whom you turn to for advice, mentoring and networking on professional, not personal, matters.
  2. Next to each mentor write down the name of the person who introduced you to this key contact.
  3. Study the list of of your "referrers."
Here is what you are likely to see, Contractor tells writer Arina Green.
"They will discover that, often, there are just a handful of people who introduced them to the most important people in their lives. These are people who ought to be cultivated because they are helping to broaden a network. One must make sure to continue to connect with those people."
But another major finding might very well be that you found many of your own mentors. That's a sign that you are not using your career network effectively.

Read Green's very insightful post for details on how to keep a network alive. Like a garden, a business network needs careful and constant attention and care. As she notes:

"Simply collecting business cards and attending events may expand your number of contacts, but does not increase the likelihood that those contacts will benefit you in the future. To reap the benefits of networking when you need them, you must know how to make your network work for you, and how you can work for your network."
Do you use your network effectively? How do you keep it vital?

(Network image by Marc Smith, CC 3.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.