Explore the Power of Your Personal Network

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Network! Network! Network!

Anyone savvy enough to read TheStreet knows that the best job search, service provider and business development leads are sourced through our personal and professional connections. And any executive worth her town car understands that our most fruitful affiliations consist of high-ranking colleagues, along with our closest family and friends.

But that's not where the story ends . . .

Concentrating our attention on bosses and best friends ignores the untapped "long tail" network right under our nose -- our acquaintances, co-workers and subordinates. Counter-intuitively, less exalted connections often yield better results than our high-profile brain trust. Thus it's crucial to cultivate the following folks for your network:
  • Casual friends. Let's face it, our closest friends know that they can brush-off a request and get away with it; after all, we often do the same to them. But less intimate associates are often more responsive. An unexpected, well-crafted email from an interesting person at the gym is a novelty, a welcome diversion from the daily grind. Many people will be happy to help if only to flag a break in their routine.
    Do not be shy! Remember the seemingly-unlikely-but-nonetheless-proven "Ben Franklin Effect" -- strangers will like us more if they do a favor for us, than if we do a favor for them. ( Read about this phenomenon at ChangingMinds.org.)
  • Younger, social contacts. Goldman Sachs partners are busy, very busy; throw in a family, a commute and some perfunctory charity work and they'll have no time for you unless you're pitching the next billion-dollar IPO. Alternatively, an attractive 30-something who works at Sotheby's, has a summer share in East Hampton and plays squash at the Princeton Club enjoys contacts and insights that any headhunter would envy. Send that person a text and invite them for a drink!
  • Less accomplished colleagues. Everyone covets an informational interview with the CEO; good luck getting it. But an anonymous middle manager receives far fewer requests and has far less reservations about granting them. Better yet, subordinates know where the bodies are buried and welcome the opportunity to share their views. Plus, they'll enjoy "managing-up," and receiving your reciprocal support for doing so.

    The Career Iconoclast's Weekly Action Items

    1. Draft a list of 25 associates who fit the criteria listed above. For each entry, note how they could best add value to your job search, personal branding or business development efforts. Think about the best way to approach these individuals; how many times can you return to the well to seek their help; and what could you offer as a quid pro quo for their assistance?

    2. Test the thesis! Pick a name from your list, structure a simple request and prove to yourself that there's more scope to your network than bosses, family and friends.

    3. Expand your circle of acquaintances. And, no, that doesn't mean attending a desultory networking event where everyone exchanges cards and goes home drunk and empty-handed. Instead, join a book club, a bowling league or an occasional boy's night out. There's no need to talk shop, just enjoy the camaraderie and congratulate yourself for adding more arrows to your professional quiver.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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