Regardless of your field or where you are in your career, success is largely determined by your relationships inside and outside the office. Building and maintaining a strong network is key.   

By Tiffany Dufu
Illustration by José Luis Merino

True or false: Professional success is determined predominantly by our work performance. False. According to research there is not a strong causal connection between job performance and career outcomes. Instead, what is actually most important is the relationships we build over time. 


Try not to think of it as networking.

“Networking” gets a bad rap because it sounds manipulative to court people with an agenda. Ditch the word. It’s easier to appreciate the value of networks—and the process of creating them—when we envision them as meaningful villages of people open to helping one another. The next time you send an introduction email or get invited to an event where you’ll meet new people, just tell yourself, “I’m growing my village.” 

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Do come up with a strong “headline” for yourself.

When you communicate with people, whether in person or online, open with a memorable headline that reflects your expertise or what you want to be known for. It can be as simple as “My strength is connecting people.” Put your headline in your email signatures and social media profiles and on business cards. You want to make it easy for someone to recall why you’re relevant to their future outreach.

3. Don’t try to make new friends.

Joanna Barsh’s How Remarkable Women Lead explores the way women’s reliance on deeper relationships puts us at a disadvantage in the workplace. Women often believe that for someone to be willing to help in the future, we need to establish a relationship built on mutual vulnerability and multiple encounters. But those relationships take time—which none of us, especially women, have a lot of. If you have a solid story with a memorable headline, your goal is to continue to keep yourself top of mind for the people you’re cultivating. Follow and interact with them on social media, and add them to any work updates you may email out. Send them notes on personal occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. You don’t need to be friends with the people in your network in order to have a good connection.

4. Do ask questions.

I’m an introvert, which means I’ve had to overcome many networking hurdles. Early in my career I discovered that if I imagined myself as a journalist, cocktail conversations became a lot less anxiety-provoking. I developed a set of questions to get people talking and to give myself time to think of responses. I learned a lot of information for my

About our expert

Tiffany Dufu is the author of 'Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less.'