Old Boys Network

If you want to advance in your career – whether that’s in employment or in business – you’re going to need an old boys’ network.

The old boys’ network was how people progressed in previous generations. Actually, it was how public school educated white men progressed.

I’d love to say the old boys’ network is well, old, but the truth is it still exists today and if you want to get ahead, you need your own network.

The good news is you don’t (only) have to be white, male or public school educated any more to have an old boys’ network – you can go ahead and form your own network now, whatever stage of your career you’re in, with these seven steps.

Seven steps to creating your own old boys’ network

1) Be on good terms with family members

Since most old boys’ networks are built on personal relationships, you can’t get more personal than your own family! Yes, this also includes aunties and uncles and extended cousins you only see every other Christmas. Take a genuine interest in what your family members do for a living (and let them know what you do) – you may find through conversation that you already have a relative in a field, job or organisation you want to get into which will help smooth your process.

2) Never burn bridges in your previous employment

No matter how tempted you are to leave a job with all guns blazing, telling your managers, colleagues and anyone else who might care to listen just how much you’ve always hated them and how incompetent they are at their job, that might not be such a good idea if you’re planning on ever working anywhere else again!

Building an old boys’ network is all about expanding your connections and forming meaningful relationships which may pay off later down the line. I’m often surprised at just how many people feel it’s okay to bad mouth former employers on social media (I’ve seen a lot of this on LinkedIn). You never know where that ex-colleague might end up next so don’t burn any bridges on your way out.

3) Use social media

Seriously, arguing against social media in this day and age is probably like the argument against cars in previous centuries when horse and carriage was still a thing. Social media is crucial for your old boys’ network. It’s a great way to stay connected with people you already know but it’s an even better way to build relationships with people you don’t yet know. If you haven’t fully got on board with social media, get on board! And if you’re someone who struggles with change in general, Who Moved My Cheese is a quick and easy read that will help put things in perspective.

4) Get the most out of LinkedIn

When it comes to professional relationship building, all social media are not created equal. LinkedIn is by far the most useful for building your old boys’ network. If you’re reading this on LinkedIn, congratulations you’ve taken the first step! Now the next step is to make sure that your LinkedIn profile is awesome in telling your ‘work story’ and describing what you have to offer to the world (I can help with this), then you can start connecting and interacting with people.

There’s a whole lot more to say on this (which I’ll probably write about another time), but for now, I recently discovered a guy – Mark ‘Mr LinkedIn’ Williams – who hosts a great podcast on how to use LinkedIn more effectively. Well worth tuning into.

5) Go to events and network

The word networking has been tainted. It’s a buzz word in some circles and a dirty word in others. Networking is essentially building new relationships with, most of the time, complete strangers in a safe setting. The safe setting can of course be online, but as we’ve already covered this I’m now talking about networking in the flesh.

There’s a difference between going to networking events and going to events and networking. Personally, I don’t like networking events – the ones where the only reason for the gathering is to network. As an introvert, I struggle with these types of events as I can’t stand small talk (I’m working on this) and you have to do a whole lot of these to build meaningful connections at these events. I prefer to go to events where something else is happening – like a seminar, a workshop, a conference – and then before, after or during the event, make some time to speak to people.

I also try and do the same thing when I’m invited to speak at events – I like to stick around and hear the other speakers, where possible, and connect with them afterwards. When done well (and with good intentions) networking is a great way to build up your old boys’ network.

6) Follow up and stay in touch

It’s one thing meeting new people and collecting business cards at an event, it’s quite another to actually follow up and stay in touch with the people you meet. This is an important part of building your old boys’ network. As your network grows, keep in touch with your connections and check in on them now and again – and no, not just when you’re looking for a job or a business lead.

Social media has made staying in touch so much easier (provided you still inject the personal touch to your approach) – you can like, comment on or share something someone’s posted to touch base with them; you can share an interesting or useful article; you can reach out on birthdays or other memorable occasions with a personalised greeting when it pops up on your feed, and so on. Taking the simple action of following up and staying in touch with your connections can help to strengthen your network over months, years and a whole lifetime.

7) Get yourself a mentor / sponsor / coach / champion…

It doesn’t really matter what you call them but you need someone in your corner if you’re going to advance your career. Someone who believes in you and whispers your name in the right circles for promotion; someone who can get your CV in through the back door when the front door has a closed sign on it; someone who gives you valuable advice and can hold you accountable for the decisions that you make.

This super person (or people) can help to expand your old boys’ network quickly and beyond your reach so they themselves are a crucial part of your network. If you don’t know where to find such a person, start by searching your existing network!


Photo credit: The Salmon Youth Centre in Bermondsey