Building Your Community – Why it’s vital to your career
For many years people have said “It’s not what you know but who you know” and while I think this doesn’t necessarily give the credit to the skills you have, the sentiment is correct. Networking and building a community at work is vital to the success of your career in the public sector due to the fact that public sector staff often move within departments/universities throughout their career. If you have built a great working relationship your network can very possibly span across the country opening up opportunities that may not have been on your radar.
Before we dive deeper into this I want to tell you about my career and how my networks helped shaped the path I have taken.
I started at Monash University 8 years ago as a Purchasing Officer in the University’s finance department supporting the Provost and other key senior clients. I have always liked building solid working relationships and this role was no different. I was supporting senior members of the University leadership. I knew that I should be building relationships with everyone I came across, from cleaner to the Vice-Chancellor. I formed a few key relationships that altered how my career formed.
These key relationships helped me map out how I could go from being a Purchasing Officer to an Executive Assistant. One of my connections provided some early honest feedback that I needed more University experience and that a role in HR would really assist that. So that’s what I did, I secured a role in the HR team supporting the HR Business Partners. This role was fantastic for me, I learnt a lot about supporting not only a team but also a wider client group. Throughout this time in HR, I kept my relationships strong from my first role and when a dream first EA role became available I applied. Because of my good reputation within the area and the solid network I had built I landed the role. That was 4 years ago and I have loved every minute. I have since been promoted and again due to my networks those involved knew exactly what I was capable of and had me in mind.
The Power of Networks
In 2018 I started the Monash University EA Network after feeling isolated in my role as an Executive Assistant. The Network is now at over 250 members and has been the best thing I have done. I have loved being connected to so many EA’s and learning together and helping shape how we grow as a group. I loved it so much that I created Higher Education Assistants to take this model to all EAs working in the sector.
I view networks in two ways, small personal networks and larger role/company based networks. The small personal networks are your close confidants at work. They are the people that will tell you what they think you are doing great and what you need to improve on. These are the people who will also give you that push to go for that next promotion or pay rise. The key part of this is that they need to be honest with you. I don’t need ‘yes’ friends.
The larger networks are more self-explanatory. They operate with members having a core similar purpose. They can, however, help you increase capability for the company and improve staff morale. If you feel like your role or workplace is in need of a network, just the jump and start one!
You can read more about my thoughts on networks here.
The Role of Vulnerability
When starting out on your networking journey remember, vulnerability is key. I have just written an article solely about vulnerability and the workplace, you can find it here.
When building connections you need to be honest and real, you can’t go into this hiding your true self, it is too exhausting. It takes courage to be vulnerable in your everyday life but it takes even more courage to be vulnerable at work.
If you are fighting against your vulnerability you are going to struggle to make real connections.
One of my favourite quotes from Brene Brown is “imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together” so get out there and don’t be afraid to tell someone you don’t know the answer, or that you need help on a task.
Finding your Next Mentor
We can’t discuss building communities without a look at the key role of mentors. Mentors play a vital part in our work community. They should be someone that is not within your immediate team and they should be someone that can help you push to the next level of your work. You want someone who is open and host with you and who can provide you with honest feedback. Some of my key tips are:
- Take a risk and ask someone you wouldn’t normally have the courage to ask. The worst-case scenario is they say no, and you are in the same position as when you started.
- Once your mentor accepts the role, set a regular time to meet and plan out your meeting.
- Be curious and ask questions that require deep answers. Allow them to push your thinking.
- Know exactly what you want out of the relationship. What can they help you with, and if possible, what can you also help them with? It should be a two-way street.
- Be honest and respect each other. The relationship is based on trust and respect. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions.
- Ask for direct feedback but be prepared for honest feedback. Take it in, think about it and process it. It is all about learning.
Your community should be there to support you throughout your career and in return, you should be offering the same support. Put out as much energy as you wish to receive in return but do it from the kindness of your heart, not because you want something.
Building these relationships, both on a small scale and a large scale, are truly life-altering. Start small, if you don’t have a small group of friends at work who can give you honest and unbiased feedback, find some. Open up and in turn, they will also open up. Ask questions you may not like the answer to. Be open to honest feedback from genuine sources.
Best of luck in your networking journey, be open, be honest, and watch how your career can grow.