Networking with Intention: Building Relationships that Boost Your Career

Networking gets a bad rap sometimes – visions of awkward small talk, aggressive self-promotion, and doggedly collecting business cards. But at its core, effective networking is about building genuine relationships that create value for all parties over the long-term. Approached with intention, networking can unlock new opportunities, wisdom, and collaborations to fuel your career growth.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover strategic ways to network with purpose at any career stage. We’ll look at building genuine professional relationships through strategic and intentional networking, how to identify the right people to connect with, tips for initiating conversations that go beyond the surface level, techniques for nurturing connections authentically over time, using the LEAN principles to explore mutual interests and provide value, nurturing connections over time, and leveraging tools to sustain an impactful network for long-term career growth.

The Value of an Intentional Network

Before we dive into tactics, let’s discuss the “why” behind intentional networking. An expansive but curated professional network provides numerous career benefits, such as:

  • Access to non-public opportunities and job leads
  • A sounding board of knowledgeable peers to vet ideas and gain advice
  • Increased visibility and credibility by connecting with influencers
  • Potential partners for new projects, businesses or ventures
  • Learning about cutting-edge developments in your field
  • Inspiration and motivation from high-achievers
  • Diverse perspectives to counteract insular thinking

Ultimately, a network rooted in real relationships postures you to seize emerging opportunities, accelerate your growth, and amplify your impact.

Identify Your Networking Targets

Not all connections are equally valuable for your current career goals. Start by getting clarity on your objectives – are you seeking a job/project opportunity, aiming to expand your knowledge in a particular domain, looking to establish your personal brand, or simply exploring what’s possible? This will guide you toward the types of people who could be most impactful to connect with.

Your targets could include:

  • Members of your alumni network
  • Professionals a couple levels ahead of you in your desired career trajectory
  • Thought leaders, innovators, or subject matter experts in an area you’re passionate about
  • Executives, decision makers, or key employees at a company you’re interested in
  • People with complementary skills/experiences that allow for collaboration

Use LEAN Networking Principles

LEAN networking involves taking a focused, strategic approach rather than rapid-fire adding connections haphazardly. LEAN is an acronym representing key principles:

L – LISTEN intently to your contact to understand their experiences, perspectives, challenges and priorities. Ask insightful questions that go far beyond surface-level credentials or small talk.

E – EXPLORE areas of mutual interest, passion, or need where you may be able to create value for each other. Look for alignment in values, vision, and goals where your strengths could complement theirs.

A – Take ACTION by finding concrete ways to provide value, whether through an introduction, shareing a relevant resource, offering insights from your experiences, or collaborating on a project.

N – NURTURE the connection over time by continuing to share updates, resources, advice, or potential opportunities that could benefit the other person. This is how you cultivate meaningful, mutually-rewarding relationships rather than inert connections.

Who you know matters – but more importantly, who knows you, respects your expertise, and keeps you top of mind. By networking with intention using these LEAN principles, you’ll gradually build an inner circle of genuine, engaged connections that can be powerfully impactful for your career trajectory.

Initiating Conversations and Making Connections

With your targets identified, you’ll need to start making contact and initiating conversation. A few universal tips:

  • Provide value first, don’t just ask for things
  • Discover substantive common ground beyond niceties
  • Be interested, not just interesting
  • Ask insightful questions to unearth their interests and needs
  • If meeting in person, remove distractions and be present
  • Always be offering ways to help or provide resources, ideas, etc.

Some specific tactics for initiating conversations include:

Leverage Warm Introductions

Being introduced by a mutual connection dramatically improves your chances of getting someone’s attention. Ask contacts if they can make an introduction, providing a brief bio and explaining your reason for connecting.

You can also politely introduce yourself while namedropping the connection: “Robin Smith suggested I get in touch, as we both… [establish shared interest/experience].”

Identify Shared Experiences

Connecting over things like alumni status, having worked at the same company, growing up in the same area, or going through similar career/life transitions helps establish common ground.

Discover Common Interests

Research the person’s background, passions and priorities so you can identify areas of mutual interest or alignment in your conversation starters or introduction.

“I noticed your passionate about sustainability and ESG issues. I’m also very interested in corporate responsibility and the future of ethical business practices…”

“I saw that machine learning and AI ethics were areas you’ve been exploring lately. I’m fascinated by the social implications of AI…”

In-Person at Events

Events, meetups and conferences allow for more natural conversation starters. Look for opportunities to ask thoughtful questions or provide a valuable point of view during discussions. Or simply introduce yourself to attendees you’d like to connect with.

There are also ways to tactfully break into conversations:

  • Make eye contact and wait for a conversational pause
  • Politely interject with a relevant question/comment: “Speaking of [topic], what are your thoughts on…”

Remember, events are often exercises in reciprocal generosity – learn and teach, help and be helped.

Virtual/Online Introductions

Warm introductions are ideal, but you can still initiate contact through social platforms or emails thoughtfully:

  • Reference any colleagues/connections/experiences in common
  • Provide context for your reason for reaching out beyond surface niceties
  • Offer to be a resource, share insights or collaborate in ways relevant to them
  • If asking to connect, propose a specific next step (e.g. brief call) and explain the mutual value

Nurturing Your Network for Lasting Impact

The goal of networking isn’t just to accumulate once-and-done connections – it’s to build an enriching long-term web of relationships. Nurturing is essential after you’ve made an initial connection.

Add Value Continually

Networking is a reciprocal value exchange, not just a way to get things for yourself. Make it a habit to share resources, introduce connections, provide feedback/advice, and spotlight your contact’s work.

Update Your Connections

Maintain relationship momentum by sharing relevant updates about new projects, roles, publications, speaking gigs, or key milestones so you stay top of mind.

These show you’re engaged and create natural conversation/collaboration opportunities.

Schedule Periodic Touchpoints

Simple gestures like setting calendar reminders to check in every few months or reconnect around key events (like their company’s product launches) help prevent relationships from atrophying.


  • Phone/video calls to catch up
  • Invitations to meet up if you’ll be in their area
  • Sharing a relevant article/update and requesting their input

Tap Into Your Network Respectfully

You shouldn’t reach out only when you need a favor. But when genuinely appropriate, don’t be afraid to enlist your connections respectfully for things like:

  • Getting referred for career opportunities they’re suited for
  • Seeking advice on a challenge they have expertise in
  • Exploring partnership opportunities that could create value

Apply the LEAN framework: Listen, explore areas of overlap, make specific “asks” that demonstrate you’ve put thought into it, and nurture continuously.

Tools and Techniques for Strategic Networking

While the core principles remain human, leveraging tools and modern resources can optimize and streamline intentional networking. Some techniques and tools to consider:

  • Set reminders and schedule touchpoints in a networking CRM
  • Use social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) to share content and dialogue
  • Create email templates to quickly offer value or share news
  • Maintain an organized, updated contact database
  • Set goals and track metrics like new connections made monthly
  • Batch your networking activities for dedicated focus time

The key is finding workflows that allow you to effectively sustain your network without spreading yourself too thin.

Networking is a Career-Spanning Journey

The relationships and community you build around yourself through networking can become your greatest professional asset over time. While the rules of etiquette and intention remain the same, your network will evolve and continuously unlock new value as your experience and goals change.

So approach networking not as a chore or checkbox, but as a wise investment in yourself and your future. True networking is an energizing exchange of value, wisdom and support with an incredibly high ROI, no matter where you are in your career path.

Dan Sawyer

Founding editor and head writer of Dan is a job interview and career expert, with more than 20 years of experience in senior roles at high tech leaders Space Exploration Technologies and Samsung Austin Semiconductor.

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