I recently did an online master class for Ivy Exec called ‘How to Break Free from the Mid-Career Slump’, and there were so many good questions that I just didn’t get to answer. So I’m going to start answering them in a series of these blog posts.

Today’s questions (I’m going to answer three of them) are all around networking. These three questions are:

  1. How do you interact correctly with your professional network?
  2. What role do mentors play in a mid-career slump?
  3. Did I have a champion to pull me through my career?

How do you interact correctly with your professional network?

So, on “how do you interact correctly with your professional network”, I’ve got three thoughts. First is you’ve got to give first. It’s like making a deposit in your relationship bank account before you can make a withdrawal.

Second, you want to make sure it’s a two-way street, so it’s not you giving all the time and never receiving. You want to give and you want to ask as well. Make it a balance.

Then, third, you always want to do it in a professional manner. Being professional is so important; it’s one of my highest compliments that I can pay anybody. “You are so professional.” Wow, that means something to me, and what it means in this context is you want to be sure to be constructive, and you want to be using positive words, you don’t want to be gossiping, definitely not criticising, but you want to be solutions-oriented. So it’s a really professional relationship where your behaviour is completely at that high level that you want it to be.

Then, overall, this is really about building relationships. When it comes to relationships, there are psychology studies that show that in order for you to keep a relationship of any kind at neutral, you’ve got to have at least three or maybe even five positive interactions to offset every one negative interaction. So it’s a 3:1 or 5:1 ratio just to keep it at neutral.

So what that says is when you’re developing that professional network you’ve got to have enough interactions with people so that when that inevitable hiccup happens you’ve got some positive interactions in the bank.

What role do mentors play in a mid-career slump?

I think they play three main roles.

One is as a sounding board so that you can test out new opportunities and different ideas, and see what their feedback is to you about how that fits with your strengths and skill-set.

The second one is about being a reality check for you. Sometimes our self-perceptions of a situation are not always accurate. So it’s giving you help in holding up a mirror to say, “How do they perceive things?” And compare that, whether there’s a gap to how you perceive things, so a reality check.

Then third, they can be helping you as a career guide, particularly by giving you their experiences and the stories that they have, so that you can really glean some things about your own future direction and how to get out of the slump.

I want to emphasise that what they are not is that they are not somebody that you vent to, and that it’s for the purpose of venting. Unless you know them so well and you say, “Look, I’ve just got to vent for a few minutes here,” but in a professional mentoring relationship it’s not really about venting.

It’s also not about asking them to give you a job. You want to be a little bit more subtle about it. It is okay to ask for, “Who else should I talk to, to explore something further,” or advice on what’s the best way forward. But you’re not supposed to ask them directly for a job.

Did I have a champion to pull me through my career?

I had the privilege of having three, not at the same time, and unfortunately not continuously. It was when I had those champions that I actually had the biggest jumps in my career, and in between I felt like I was “in the wilderness”.

Now, how do you find this kind of champion? Well, unfortunately you can’t just go to the store and get one and bring him or her home.

What you have to do is you have to put yourself out there. You’ve got to take a little bit of personal risk and have some courage, but put yourself out there so that people can see you in action, you at your best, and that way they can say, “Yes, this is somebody that I have the confidence in to really perform well if I pluck them out of here and plop them into this new, bigger, better, different opportunity for them to shine.”

So, I hope that’s helpful. I’ll be back with more answers to your questions. In the mean time, I want to urge you to keep investing in yourself so that you can be better and do more.