Build your career support network now before you need it

Varun 2 years and 11 months ago
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Everyone's been telling you to get a support network together, and some new research from HBS indicates that it's important to do this before you need them.

You are undergoing a career-related crisis.
Oh no! Maybe you're thinking of accepting a new job. Maybe you got laid off. Maybe you're in a career funk. Maybe you're just ready to move on to bigger and better things.

Who do you talk to?
Do you know? Do you trust them to give you good advice? How often do you talk to them, and keep them up-to-date?

Let me guess: you haven't thought about it. You'd probably talk to a few close friends, and maybe a family member. You don't talk to them about career stuff very often/at all.

[caption id="attachment_245" align="aligncenter" width="300"]a good support network can give you just the boost that you need to thrive a good support network can give you just the boost that you need to thrive[/caption]

What is a support network?
Your support network are the people you go to in these situations. They are mentors, coaches, colleagues, and some very close friends. They listen to you, and help you make the hard decisions, so you can get on with your life and be successful in your career.

Why should I get them together now?
This is a big deal. Recent research from HBS professor Francesca Gino and her colleagues shows that people are better at telling good advice from bad advice when they aren't stressed (links for nerds and non-nerds).

By waiting until you need your support network, you won't be as good at telling the good advisors apart from the bad ones. Bad advice leads to bad decisions. Bad decisions lead to bad outcomes. Bad outcomes areā€¦bad.

If you are able to build a support network before you need them, you'll have a cool, rational mind that will clearly be able to differentiate the good advisors from the bad ones. That way when you are in the midst of an anxiety-inducing career crisis, you'll be surrounded by the right people and the right advice.

What now?
I won't write a whole article on how to build a support network, unless you let me know that you'd like to see one here. There are a few good write-ups out there already, including this one. My cliffs notes version of a support network includes:

  • Mentors - people who are doing what you might want to do some day
  • Coaches - professionals who are there specifically to listen and work with you to achieve your goals
  • Colleagues - people who see the same stuff you see day-to-day
  • Friends - people who know you better than you know yourself

Seek out these people. Keep them engaged and informed. Let the lower-quality relationships migrate out of your support network and replace them with better ones.

As an aside, I've noticed that entrepreneurs are better than the average person at building a support network for themselves and their startups. I think this is because there is no illusion of a pre-established network from an employer, and early startup work can be very lonely without a network to provide support. I'm still building my support network for Disqovery, but it is starting to take shape.

Go forth. Build a support network. Grow.