The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?” is written by Hilarie Koplow-McAdams, president of New Relic.
Having worked almost 30 years in the technology business, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing and inspiring people. It is easy for me to see that my network has gotten me to where I am today.
There was a time, however, that I really didn’t understand the importance of building a network, and it took a tough lesson for me to learn how much it matters in developing your career.
About 10 years into my tenure at Oracle, I had the opportunity to interview for a leadership role under the president of Oracle North America. I knew that the position would be a stretch for me, but I had a few people encourage me to apply, so I went for it.
I didn’t get the role, but what I did get was the all-time best career advice that I’ve ever received. I initially figured that I wasn’t hired because I didn’t answer the questions the right way or my strategy was off. But his feedback was more pointed and personal than that. He told me: “No one really knows you.”
I took a lot of pride in the quality of my work at that time, and he explained that while I was an “A student” and had demonstrated that I could get results, if I wanted to have a bigger-picture career, I would need to focus on building my network.
His point wasn’t that success is driven by being popular around the office, but that business is a team sport, and I wasn’t going to be able to get the kind of results I wanted in this bigger role if I didn’t have strong advocates within the company who knew what I was capable of—and would go to bat for me.
This moment was a hard one, but it ended up kickstarting a completely new perspective on my career.
I realized then that I had always felt like I had to be all business. I loved what I did. I often worked through my lunches and generally didn’t place a premium on seeking out people who were not directly related to the current projects that I was working on.
Building a network isn’t easy, and it has to come from an authentic place. I had to make it a serious priority, getting outside of my comfort zone and looking for ways to engage people in new and different settings. I also had to focus in on understanding what the people around me were trying to achieve, and see how I might be able to help them get there. This process proved to be rich with learning, and I am sure I’m a better leader today because of these experiences.
The person who ended up landing that role at Oracle over 20 years ago had what it took—she was trusted and everyone knew who she was. And when she moved on from the position a few years later, I ended up getting her job. Hard work alone didn’t get me that position; it was connectedness.
I now know that the combination of a results orientation and a strong network are incredibly powerful when applied in tandem. So I’ll pass on the advice: Take the time to build your network.