The Pros and Cons of Similar and Diverse Professional Networks

(U.S. Army/Stephen Baack)

As you exit the military, one of the tools you'll need in your career toolkit is a vibrant and rewarding network of contacts. You'll intentionally cultivate professional relationships with these individuals so they'll be inclined to refer, endorse, support and advance you as you grow your skills, talents and opportunities in post-military life.

But should the people in your network be alike? Should they be of the same rank and job titles, skills, degree of access and past experiences? Or are you better served by having a diverse set of networking contacts representing a wider range of experiences, insights and access to other contacts?

Pros and Cons of a Network of Similar People

I once heard a speaker advocate for having a network of like-minded contacts. He believed that when you surround yourself with people who are like you and similar to each other, you can build depth in your positioning in the industry.

You become known as part of a more elite circle, can glean insights and information only available to people "in the know," and can advance your career by leveraging more targeted industry contacts. And, since people tend to do business with those they like, the thinking goes that more people will learn to like you and afford you chances to compete for promotions and jobs if they know you well because you're one of them.

The negative to networking with people who are like you is that you might miss different points of view, new trends and insights, and the opportunity to grow your exposure to new possibilities. You also might become so narrowly focused into your area of interest or specialty that you miss the chance to broaden your career later. If you decided to shift your career in a new direction, you'd have to establish your network all over again.

Pros and Cons of Having a Diverse Network

OK, I'll come clean: I'm a huge fan of having a diverse network! I love knowing people from different industries, companies, jobs and even countries, and cultivating professional relationships with them. I thrive by learning about their work and their worlds, their experiences, successes and challenges. From cultural differences, lifestyle dissimilarities and even diversity of perspective, I grow.

Introverts and extroverts, analytical types and creatives, people who do what I do and people who do vastly different work, my network includes them all. If I'm courting a prospective client in an industry I'm not versed in, or a country I'm not familiar with, or who holds a job I don't understand, there is someone in my network I can reach out to for advice and insight. For my work and my world, having a diverse network is ideal.

The downside -- if there is one -- to having so many different types of people is the effort it takes to keep the relationships thriving. If my network was all similar, I could (theoretically) send a similar update message to them all, post the same type of message on social media repeatedly and only need to participate in one type of event or industry meeting. Since my network covers so many industries, sectors and areas, it's easy to spread myself too thin.

Another potential risk to such a diverse network is missing the ability to form deep and meaningful professional relationships. If they were all similar and were a smaller group of contacts, I could ask more similar questions of them (and receive more consistently alike responses). I wouldn't have to spend as much time nurturing each professional relationship, and following up and following through on so many topics would take less time.

Even though it seems to take more time and effort to network with a dissimilar set of contacts -- who have different backgrounds, goals, stories and time zones -- I feel that the richness of the experience outweighs the cost of time.

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