You’re only as strong as the people with whom you surround yourself. And while that’s the case for your off-the-clock life, it’s the bona-fide truth when it comes to your career. Sadly though, speakers at development workshops and the authors of self-help books are quick to tout the importance of a professional network, but often stop short of who to include in it.
Well, I've picked up where they’ve left off with the five need-to-have peeps you need to reach your goals, plus advice on how to maximize the relationship. As you navigate your career, you’ll probably outgrow some and invest more time into others, and that’s natural. But this well-rounded cast of characters serves as a foundation to make sure you’re not going at it alone because, in case you’ve forgotten, there’s strength in numbers.
Click through to start cultivating your community right now.
1) THE INDUSTRY ALLY
Who she is: The colleague at a similar place in her career who walks the same walk, talks the same talk and shares the many of your same interests.
Why you need her: Whether it’s business jargon or emerging trends, sometimes it’s easier to communicate with someone who understands and can relate to your ups and downs. Most importantly, she helps keep your work life from seeping too far into your personal or romantic worlds by acting as a sounding board when you need it.
Where to find her: Look around, there’s probably a potential Ally in sight: She could be a coworker, contact made at a networking event, mutual associate or even a connection sprung from social media.
What to remember: Industry Allies are relatively easy to find, but hard relationships to nurture, especially if you you start to rise up the ranks more rapidly than your Ally. Don’t disclose too much personal or professional intel (especially online!) — when the stakes are high, that GChat rant could come back to sting.
2) THE STRAIGHT SHOOTER
Who she is: The one who keeps it real and takes no prisoners.
Why you need her: An unchecked ego is career cancer. The Straight Shooter has a way of communicating that makes you sit up and take notice. Even when you don’t want to hear what she has to say, you know there’s value in the message.
Where to find her: The best Straight Shooters are either current or past bosses who know your work ethic and are invested in your professional development.
What to remember: Straight Shooters should be action-oriented. If she identifies an area of opportunity, ask her to point you to the resources to turn it into a strength.
3) THE LAUNCH PAD
Who she is: The senior-level leader with enormous industry influence and a track record to back it up.
Why you need her: Word of mouth is still a powerful tool. And most markets are so competitive these days, a strong résumé and nicely crafted LinkedIn Summary still may not be enough to propel you to the next level.
Enter The Launch Pad, lifting you higher than you could go on your own with her colossal database of contacts and boundless savvy. If you’ve earned enough affection from someone that they’ll leverage their network to accelerate your ascent, it serves as validation that the steps you’ve taken up to this point count for something.
Where to find her: You don’t find The Launch Pad; The Launch Pads find you.
What to remember: While your Launch Pad can put you in front of the right people and nudge higher-ups to give you a chance, it’s up to you to perform and make the recommendation a valuable return on her investment. Also, Launch Pads are often your most vocal and loyal cheerleaders, and they love progress reports, so keep in touch by sharing big wins, small successes and even the minor setbacks.
4) THE LEGACY
Who she is: The bright-eyed, newly degreed ambitious intern who has no idea what she’s in for.
Why you need her: Kindness begets kindness. For every person that pours into you (see The Launch Pad), you should be doing the same for someone else. Plus, chances are, you won’t be in the same position at the same job your entire career, so when you leave, it’s gratifying to know there’s someone ready to follow in your stylish footsteps.
Where to find her: Still at her computer, working past sunset, eager to impress the big boss.
What to remember: Make professional development a priority, not just for yourself, but for de facto mentees, like The Legacy too. Before you were a Standout, you were someone’s Legacy.
5) THE HISTORIAN
Who she is: Your college BFF who remembers you when you were first starting out.
Why you need her: She knows what you’re made of. And trust us: You’ll find yourself in what seems like a lonely valley in between career peaks. When that happens, the only thing that will push you forward is the girlfriend who’ll remind you all the time you aced that test on two-and-a-half hours of sleep or knocked that internship interview out of the park that led to your current job. In other words: We all need a reminder of where we’ve been to push us where we’re going and that’s where Historians thrive.
Where to find her: You already know her!
What to remember: Historians love blasts from the past, so while it’s healthy to periodically reflect on the good ol’ days, life is about the now — you’re not whom you once were.