Three Degrees of Separation: Building a Powerful Professional Network

When you think of networking, are you turned off?

Do you have visions of asking someone you barely know if you can add them to your network because you want something from them?  Experts would call this approach transactional, unauthentic and not very effective. There is value to you but nothing in it for them. Building your network shouldn’t be like that. Let’s agree – connections are important and a truly helpful, professional network can be leveraged to get you your dream career.

In their book “The Start-Up of You”,Reid Hoffman (the founder of LinkedIn) and Ben Casnocha say the real way to create a network requires the ability to:

  1. be authentic to build a genuine relationship with another person
  2. work with the people you know
  3. create three degrees of separation for the people who can help you the most professionally
  4. prioritize the high-quality relationships across a large number of connections

To be authentic, start with a friendly gesture that immediately adds value to them by being associated with you. An example would be, “I have a management tool I think you’d love. I’ll send it to you.” The authors say it is essential to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to develop an honest connection. Then think in terms of how you can collaborate with and help the other person. That’s the authentic part that you just can’t fake your way through.

The best way to engage with new people is by working with people you already know but focus on deepening the connection. Most people maintain 5 to 10 active alliances.  An ally is someone you consult regularly for advice and proactively share and collaborate on opportunities together. An ally is someone you will cooperate with, sacrifice for and are few in number.

I cherish my alliances. Recently, a dear friend engaged in possibly acquiring a manufacturing firm to compliment her business. It was her first acquisition attempt. Though she had all of the right resources to perform due diligence and make the decision, we still spent endless hours walking, talking about the process and her feelings throughout. She, in turn, has been a resource for me several times during our relationship.

Looser connections are what sociologists call “weak ties”. These are folks whom you’ve spent limited time with but are still friendly. Why are they important? Because weak ties sit outside your inner circle and are more inclined to bring new information and new opportunities.
Friends of friends of friends are your third-degree connections. Why is three degrees the magic number? Because when you are introduced to a second- or third-degree connection, at least one person personally knows the origin.  And that’s how trust is preserved and credibility is established.At three degrees of separation, your extended network can lead you to 50,000+ connections via a personal introduction from somebody you know.
How does it work – you leverage your network through an introduction from someone you know, who knows the person you want to reach. For your network to be successful, you need to be effective at requesting and making introductions.

“Relationships are living, breathing things. Feed, nurture, and care about them; they grow. Neglect them; they die,” according Hoffman and Casnocha.
They suggest that in the next week you:
  • Introduce two people who don’t know each other but ought to
  • Think about a challenge you face and ask for an introduction to a connection in your network who could help
  • Identify a weaker tie with whom you’d like to build an alliance. Help him/her by giving  a small gift such as an article or job posting

And their paramount tip on networking to build a great career – be authentic!

Debra Koenig, President, B2A


2 responses to “Three Degrees of Separation: Building a Powerful Professional Network

  1. Very good. To cultivate the business relationships you have, keep in mind what things they are doing so when you come across something that may benefit them, share it. It keeps the communication going and builds a perspective that we are all in this together. Also, flag birthdays on Plaxo and other network sites and recognize their birthdays. But don’t do this to check a box; do it because it is a nice thing to do with a win/win environment established for your extended community!

  2. Pingback: A Framework for Networking Movers and Shakers | Better Managers Blog

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