Can a Monthly Lunch Date Further Your Career?

fork-on-table-848540-mI recently attended a workshop hosted by Bryan Cave’s San Francisco Office as part of the firm’s Women’s Initiative. The workshop was lead by coaches from Suite Track. At the end of the presentation, the coaches challenged the women in the room to all find four professional friends to invite to a lunch, once a month, to talk about career-related stuff.

At the lunch the group needed to agree to spend approximately 90 percent of the time talking about careers, aspirations, challenges, you name it. Ten percent of the time could be spend on catching up (talking about travel, family, etc.). It was an interesting idea that I had heard explored at other events. Women typically are great at building personal relationships but not as good at developing professional relationships. These professional relationships are critical when it comes time to getting promotions, bringing in clients, or collaborating on projects. It isn’t that these professional relationships don’t have a personal touch to them—sure, they do! But the primary purpose of these relationships is to maintain professional networking connections. Know what? It is a great idea and one we should all consider doing. 

Investing in Professional Networking Relationships

This isn’t the first time I have had this type of idea suggested to me. In 2012 I attended a Ms. JD conference in Washington, D.C., where a group of women known as the “Dancin’ Queens” or DQs spoke about their powerful networking group. The DQs are nine women, the original eight of whom met one another at a Navigant Consulting Women’s Leadership Conference. They are Mary Gill, Barbara Kolsun, Andrea Tecce, Linda Kornfeld, Andrea Kramer, Hilary Clarke, Gail Zirkelbach, Marie Woodbury, and Marianne Carroll. The DQs meet twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall at a member’s farm in Michigan. They find these relationships supportive and profitable as they are able utilize their networking power to grow their own books of business and get important guidance from trusted confidants. (You can learn more about the DQs here.)

Alison has a networking group of professional friends that meets on an ad hoc basis in San Francisco (any member can call a meeting). They talk about professional and personal issues or decision making (I need to switch jobs or I am not sure how to navigate a personal issue I have going on).

But the key is that they can reach out to each other as needed to get incredibly important support. And it is not just about being friends; it is about being professional champions for each other.

Here is another example. A while back my best friend was interviewing for a new job. She came over for dinner and we spent the entire time talking about how she should give her presentation at her call back interview. We’re not in the same field. She’s not a lawyer, but I have more presentation experience than she has. We were able to set aside our usual “girl talk” and put our heads together as professional friends to help one of us succeed. (She got the job, by the way.) Alison also has a friend who started a regularly scheduled networking breakfast in Hollywood, for women in entertainment. It became a powerful networking tool for all those involved, and many contacts and much money has been made from a simple thing like having breakfast. Alison and I also have regular check-in calls with professional friends to talk about how work is going and different ways we can collaborate. Often, great ideas and opportunities come out of these calls.

How to Build Networking Relationships

I can continue to share stories about how personal and professional friendships can help you in a professional situation, but let’s get back to the idea of building relationships, specifically for networking. I think there is a lot of value to investing in professional relationships and networks, no matter where you are in your career. Let’s say you have just graduated from law school. You may even be job hunting. What if you selected a group of people (women and/or men) to have lunch with monthly to talk about the job hunt or your new job? What if you kept these lunches going for five years? In five years, you would all be established as attorneys. It is likely you could send work to each other. What about eight years? Perhaps a few of you are now partners in a law firm. You could help each other be rainmakers. The opportunities are endless.

Don’t think you are too young or inexperienced to start these relationships. You want to start them now, and the benefits will only grow as the relationships get stronger and the members of your group continue to grow in their own careers.

The stories shared above show that networking relationships (even with a personal touch) can be very effective if you continue to invest in them. Personal relationships can also help you professionally if you are willing to reach out and talk about professional topics. In any event, do take time to look at your networking circle and invest in relationships that can help you move forward professionally. We all need help and guidance every now and then. You can build your own support network to help you succeed professionally (and perhaps to create opportunities for some fun too!).

So, will you accept the same challenge presented to me at the networking luncheon? Can you set up a lunch this month with four professional friends to start a networking group of your own?

Do you have experience working with such a network? If so, share your experiences in the comments.

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