The link between your network and your career success

You need to build a relationship with those from other units and higher up the hierarchy who can give you access to resources, access to information, and provide career sponsorship.

The link between your network and your career success

What a week! Recording for the future of work webinar series with RoRemote done. That's the high point, followed by a low point: Next week's camping trip looking uncertain with the car in the garage. But enough of this, let's focus on learning something new. I'm continuing the social network theme. In the last two newsletters, I talked about networks and leadership. This one is intended for a larger audience and not just leaders. I'm going to talk about the link between social capital and career success. The arguments and results presented here are based on the study by Seibert and colleagues.

Key points

  • Your social capital influences your career success, but not directly.
  • You need to build a relationship with those from other units and higher up the hierarchy who can give you access to resources, access to information, and provide career sponsorship.
  • If you want to build relationships, it's not enough to just once in a while talk with strangers or people from different organizational units. You need to invest time.
  • You should build up network awareness (see exercise at the end of the article)

What is an advice network

When I talk about networks I mean the connection between people. It's the web or pattern of interaction people have. If you make a picture of this network, you can see how the information flows. This is important if you want to understand who has or does not has access to specific information. The connection between people can be many different things: colleagues, friends, sharing advice, reporting.

In an advice network, the connection between people represents that one person is seeking advice from another person. This can indicate that one person is a mentor, or very helpful and always ready to answer questions. The main idea is that in an advice network what flows between people is answers to questions.

Your personal advice network is part of your social capital. Just like money (financial capital) helps you engage in specific activities (e.g., eat out, buy food), the people with whom you interact with, your social capital, create value for yourself and support you in reaching your goals.

I've talked with some people about this view on individuals and relationships and they noted the capitalistic bias in the language. That is true. I can't deny that the word social capital contains the word capital which is most often associated with money and making gains. However, it is impossible to exploit your relationships for a long time. Social exchange theory argues that there is a tendency for actions to be reciprocated: You do a favor for me, and I'll do one for you. Or the flip side: Revenge. Regardless, if the action is positive or negative, there is a tendency to repay the person.

Your advice network and your career success

There are three ways to look at career success: salary, promotion, and satisfaction with your career. Your advice network can have an impact on these three indicators of career success. The advice network has two characteristics: First, the people from whom you get advice, and second, the structural features of your advice network. Both have an impact on your career success.

The people from whom you get advice from, so those who answer your work or career-related questions, give you access to resources and information. These resources and information can help you complete your job, increase your organizational reputation, and feelings of empowerment.

The topology, so the structural features of your advice network, also play a role in your career success. Specifically, your number of weak ties and structural holes.

Weak ties are a way to describe acquaintances or those people you see once in a while but do not talk frequently to. The opposite of weak ties is strong ties. These are people you see more frequently than others. Weak ties are considered a source of unique or new information. As you don't often talk with these people, chances are higher that they can tell you something which you don't know yet.

Structural holes are supposed to give you a competitive edge. A structural hole exists in your social capital if two groups in your social capital, like two sub-communities, do not interact with each other. silos are an example of a structural hole.

But it is not enough to just have weak ties and structural holes. These ones should be to people in other functions and with people at higher levels to have an influence on your career success. Features of your social capital influence your career success, but only via the access to resources, information, and career sponsorship they provide.

You also should not forget that not everyone is willing to share critical and unique information with those who they only see a couple of times. Weak information might be good to get access to unique resources, but might not be sufficient for people to feel invested in you, and support you with the information you need to further your career.

Exercise: Draw your advice network

There is a simple exercise you can do to get a better understanding of your advice network. Knowing how this network looks, and your position in the network will help you achieve your goals, simply because you have a better understanding of how information flows in your network.

  • Collect names: Write down the people you go to when you seek advice, feedback, or have questions. This is the list of your advisors. Easiest is if you do this using sticky notes.
  • Group advisors: If you used sticky notes, put advisors who know each other next to each other. Unless just take a new piece of paper and draw circles for every advisor. Those advisors who know each other, put them next to each other.
  • Connect advisors: For every pair of advisors, think if they interact with each other. If yes, draw a line between them. You can make the line extra wide if they talk a lot with each other.

And that's it. You have drawn your social capital. If you like a more high-touch version, use kumu.

Think beyond: Social capital in your organization

As social capital is related to career success, you might want to consider the social capital of different people on your team or company. You could ask yourself the following questions:

  • In your company, do people from different roles or (ethnic) backgrounds have different advice networks, hence different social capital?
  • How did the covid19 pandemic impact your social capital? Did it grow or shrink?

Bibliography & Credit

Coleman, J. S. 1990. Foundations of social theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Kilduff, M., & Balkundi, P. (2011). A network approach to leader cognition and effectiveness. The SAGE handbook of leadership, 118-135.

Seibert, S. E., Kraimer, M. L., & Liden, R. C. (2001). A Social Capital Theory of Career Success. Academy of Management Journal_, _44(2), 219–237.

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

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