How To Boost Your Self-Confidence by Building Your Network

Posts, Building Your Product Career, Growing with Community

By: Kristen DeLap, VP of Enterprise Product and Experiences at MillerKnoll

These days, everyone knows the need to network. Especially for those looking for jobs or promotions, the number of articles touting the need to network is nothing short of overwhelming. However, many people are not networking effectively for their current or future state because it feels tedious or they feel insecure. But effective networking need not be tiresome or cause hesitancy. In fact, it can be the opposite. Growing your professional network can be intentional through thoughtful, subtle interactions with people you admire and respect.

Networking and Confidence are a Virtuous Cycle

The more confident you feel in reaching out to folks you don’t know, the more successful your networking may prove to be. The more successful your networking, the more confident you feel in your connections and support team. This promotes a more sustainable current state and a potentially advantageous future state. 

But to network successfully, you must understand the power of weak ties, the necessity of relationships, and then how to combine those into a superpower. 

Weak Ties Create a Powerful Network

Strong ties in our network are those folks with whom we have healthy existing friendships or work relationships. Strong ties are trusting and already disposed to help. Maintaining these ties is important but more natural than bolstering weak ties. Weak ties are social connections that may have faltered or have never developed into stronger bonds. But these infrequent “arms-length” relationships can be more beneficial to your network, as they have a further range. The creator of the theory of weak ties, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, argued in 1973 that weak ties are particularly helpful in finding new employment opportunities because they introduce information or connections to a broader social network. This is even more true today with the reliance on social media. Because our close colleagues and friends tend to revolve in the same social circles we do, the information they receive overlaps considerably with our own. Acquaintances or other contacts, by contrast, know people we do not and receive more novel information.

Networking is about Relationships, not Transactions

We have all fallen prey to the idea that the goal of networking is to get something out of someone else. This is why we often think it is hard to do – asking for something of value from a stranger is difficult. But if we shift our mindset, it becomes much easier. The type of networking that produces the best results is strategic networking – focusing on relationship-building, not on transactions. Adam Grant is one of many thought leaders who point to strategic networking (in his book Give and Take) as critical to success in the modern workplace. 

To network by building relationships means being more focused on the long term than the short term. Cultivating a strong network takes time and intentionality. Attending a speed-networking event that is little more than exchanging multiple rounds of business cards over cocktails does little to create a meaningful connection (and perhaps quite a bit to create anxiety). Relationships are often founded on goodwill, so you must create goodwill with each connection. One way to do so is to proactively engage your contacts without expectation of any direct return. 

Adjacent or weaker ties represent a great way to quickly grow your network. Therefore, a great place to start is with existing but dormant connections or weaker ties – a colleague who changed jobs, a previous manager, a college professor, or indeed someone you might have met once at an event. Take a look at their LinkedIn or social presence, and then reach out with congratulations or questions about a recent milestone in their life, or send an article you think they might find interesting. Look for an excuse to rekindle a connection. These contacts need not be in your field. In fact, cultivating connections in tangential practice areas or business sectors may be more useful in the long run. A more diverse network has a larger reach.

It is worth noting that it is critical to respect your network’s time, privacy, preferences, and boundaries. You are looking for a meaningful connection, not spamming, pitching, or selling to them without their consent or interest. Again, there should be no expectations regarding their response – focus on building genuine connections and offering value.

Some of these might not go anywhere (remember, there should be no expectation of a response), but others might express a mutual curiosity. As you start to connect with more folks and learn what topics people are talking about or opportunities that people are looking for, you might be able to connect folks to each other. You can help create a relationship between people you would otherwise have never met and strengthen your network while doing so. And as you create this goodwill in others, they may be more likely to reciprocate when you are in a time of need. 

Generally, sharing your expertise, skills, or knowledge with your network is also valuable. This could be in the form of writing an article or even a newsletter or podcast that you share freely. Or, looking through your LinkedIn feed, you might offer advice, recommendations, or potential solutions to your network’s questions or challenges they are posting about. Sharing in a way that adds value to others showcases your skills and demonstrates your authority and credibility.

Additionally, joining local meetups, events, professional groups, and the like is a very low-stakes way to grow your network in person. These events usually involve a speaker or some sort of programming, with a chance to speak with folks afterward. This allows for a built-in conversation topic (“What did you learn from the speaker?”), which can lead to meaningful dialogue around topics of interest. The more you attend, the more you’ll likely see familiar faces, which both make the events more comfortable and fun and can foster stronger connections.

Changing your mindset around networking

Moving past the transactional part of networking is difficult. Our society and workplaces have moved into a very transactional nature (partially because of our communication mediums), and to break free from that, you must change your mindset. There are two ways to begin this – change your behavior or change the way you see yourself. 

In the first method, you change your behavior for strategic purposes. Begin reaching out to 3-5 weak contacts each week, offering congrats or providing interesting information, with the intent to build your network to find a job or opportunity. This motivation is selfish – you have an end goal in mind – but your tactics are more selfless. You are still not expecting an immediate return from the contacts you reach out to; you are still trying to help people. Over time, you may see the intrinsic dividends of strengthening your relationships in this way, helping others, and that will slowly change your mindset away from the mere transaction. 

The second way to change your mindset is to align with a new identity – that of a confident and generous networker. Nir Eyal extensively writes about the power of identity: “Our perception of who we are—our identity or self-image—has a dramatic effect on our future actions.” If you know of a person who is a confident networker, ask yourself, “What would (name) do in this situation?” Imagine what they might say or what actions they might take to help you mold your new identity as a self-assured person with a healthy and supportive network. 

With strategic networking, you build a positive reputation in the eyes of others. You are a good contact to have – trustworthy, interesting, well-connected.  By sharing your expertise and value with your network, you can position yourself as a go-to resource and a thought leader in your field.  A newly strengthened network can become one of your superpowers.


Kristen DeLap Headshot

Kristen DeLap

Kristen is a seasoned product leader based in Chicago, IL. She is the VP of Product and UX at MillerKnoll, a collective of modern design brands. Kristen champions DEI within the technology and design industries and focuses on building sustainable remote product teams.

When she’s not working, she is biking through the city or herding her micro-flock of urban chickens.