Why Your Professional Network is the Currency of Your Career

Last week, I met up with a friend on the kind of work campus that feels more like Disneyland than an office. After we ordered a cold brew and an Americano from the in-house, fully-stocked coffee shop (complete with freshly-baked pastries), he looked at me and said, “I’m going to be the CEO one day.”

My friend is a 25-year-old Product Owner at one of the world’s largest gaming companies. In his short, three-year tenure, he’s gone from entry-level Marketing Associate, to Associate Brand Manager, to his current role where he manages his own team and budget that made this marketer green with envy.

How’d he do this? You can’t discount his hustle, but he said it really came down to one thing: he has always clearly and proudly articulated his professional goals to five of his closest friends and colleagues.

To speak, or not to speak

Everyone makes goals, but not everyone says them out loud. In fact, there’s a body of evidence, going back as far as 1926, indicating that keeping your goals secret is in fact the way to success. Derek Sivers suggests that “telling someone your goal makes it less likely to happen.” Basically, you get satisfaction out of telling people your goal, and you’re less motivated to actually pursue the goal—the mind mistakes the saying for the doing.

But I think the opposite applies professionally. Here’s why:

No one plays alone

Nicholas Lemann at The New Yorker, recently wrote about Reid Hoffman, Founder of LinkedIn and “relentless networker.” In “The Network Man,” Lemann outlines Hoffman’s very big ideas about the changing nature of work, economic opportunity, and how we can fix things like income inequality with the aid of technological innovation. The entire piece is worth a read, but what’s important for this conversation is what Hoffman believes about professional networks:

The keeper of your career will be not your employer but your personal network — so you’d better put a lot of effort into making it as extensive and as vital as possible.

In Hoffman’s view, your network is your professional currency. It naturally follows then that you should share your goals with the contacts you make over the course of your career. Hoffman said, “Business is the systematic playing of games.” And what games are played alone? When you share your goals, you crack open your opportunities. There’s a multiplier effect. People will share job postings, book titles, blog posts, conferences, and more—all in the name of your career success.

So in the spirit of networking and goal-stating, here are mine. Some of these will surely evolve, but others are woven into the way I think about my career:

  1. I want to work for a company that leads with values like openness and collaboration;
  2. Make enough money to one day pay down my parents’ mortgage;
  3. Lead a large team and encourage teammates — women especially — to be the best versions of themselves, personally and professionally;
  4. Balance creativity, strategy, and analytics to help grow a business with metrics that would impress the best growth marketers, and;
  5. “Relentlessly network,” and hustle my way to a VP of brand or marketing role.