The Best Way to Network in a New Job

Here's how to learn the ropes in your new organization.

Anyone who hopes to hit the ground running in a new organization must first cultivate allies – a network of people who can provide the information, resources and support needed to succeed. But few onboarding programs offer concrete advice on how to build those all-important connections.

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Few onboarding programs offer concrete advice on how to build all-important connections.

Our research during the past decade shows that replicating the network of an established employee in a strong culture typically takes three to five years.

But recently we began to wonder if there was a way to accelerate that process.

Could we develop a better blueprint for newcomer networking?

We started by tracking people joining companies with employee bases ranging from a few hundred to more than 40,000 people and pairing their progress in making social connections with monthly attrition data.

The goal was to find newcomers who got connected more quickly than peers starting at the same time – and who stayed in the organization through milestones such as the first nine months and the two- to four-year tenure band, at which flight risk is greatest.

We found a few surprises.

First, contrary to popular opinion, “brand building” across a broad network is not necessarily better. In fact, it is correlated with departures in years two to four. Successful newcomers are instead more selective and less superficial in their outreach.

They set up a lot of exploratory meetings, but they use them to ask plenty of questions, offer expertise and assistance where able, create mutual wins and generate energy.

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For newcomers, early contact with key opinion leaders is more important than having a mentor.

Greg Pryor, head of talent at Workday, which partnered with us on this research, describes the difference as working to pull people into your network rather than pushing your way into theirs.

“We teach our people how to draw people to their ideas and create energy in interactions from day one,” he explains. “When you embrace the approach, you’re much more likely to connect well.”

We also found that newcomers do not need a strong tie to a formal mentor or leader in their first nine months.

More important for their long-term success is early contact with key opinion leaders – those well connected in the organization’s networks, who are able to confer know-how and legitimacy – as well as fellow newcomers, with whom they can form affinity groups.

Effective networkers 

Crucially, effective networkers also shift their strategy as they approach the two- to four-year time frame.

They begin to streamline their interactions with close colleagues, resulting in collaborative demands that are 18-24 percent lower than their peers, while at the same time reaching across boundaries to connect with new people in different functions or divisions and those with similar values and passions, even when there is no clear short-term incentive to do so.

The result is more opportunities for enterprise-wide innovation and feeling purposeful in their work, which boosts their performance and engagement.

This article originally appeared on Harvard Business Review and was republished with permission.

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Rob Cross is a professor at Babson College and a co-author of "The Hidden Power of Social Networks."

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Peter Gray is a professor at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and a senior editor at Journal of the Association for Information Systems.

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