How to Accelerate Your Career Through Community & Professional Networks

Primary’s Jo Cheng reflects on how finding community and building a professional network is essential to career growth.

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“I hate networking.”

How many times have you heard that sentiment…or mumbled it to yourself? On the surface, networking can often seem inauthentic and self-serving, so it’s not shocking that most people shy away from the practice. In today’s reality, however, networking is a necessity. So, let’s put an end to that unhelpful narrative and focus on the benefits of networking and the authentic ways to build a professional network that works for you.

What is networking, and how do you get started?

At its core, networking is a process of building relationships.

If you’re early in your career, chances are you understand the power of networking but haven’t taken the time to build your network. If you’re a bit more senior, you probably have a decently-sized network, but haven’t leveraged the connections to their full capacity.

So how should you start building and leveraging your network? Look for a community of professionals in your function and prioritize genuine connection when meeting new people. Networking feels more natural and authentic when it is driven by shared goals and interests. A great place to start is Primary’s new Mastermind Networks, which we created for ambitious individuals looking to uplevel their careers and build their circle of peers and world-class functional leaders.

Why listen to me?

Growing up as an Asian American, I struggled to define my identity and relate to a distinct community. I was born in Taiwan, raised in Hong Kong, attended a British elementary school, and moved to the states to conclude my middle and high school education in California.

At an early age, I quickly learned that to find my place of belonging, I had to build it myself. This understanding fueled my desire and passion for building communities and networks with connection at its core.

I found myself building networks at every stage of my career, starting in college. When I was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, I cofounded our first Women in Business organization, where I built a bi-annual mentorship program that connected undergraduate students with businesswomen in Nashville. Seeing the impact the community had on undergraduate women inspired me to co-launch Aspire to Her, a community for women in their early careers—essentially an extension of Vanderbilt Women in Business, but for young women globally. At Accenture, when I recognized a lack of skill-oriented social impact initiatives, I cofounded our Women in Interactive Social Impact group. Now at Primary, I’ve strategized, built, and launched our third Mastermind Network.

Networks are powerful.

My career is a testament to the power of networks: my job at Primary evolved from meeting the incredible Gina Yocom, Director of Talent at Primary, when she participated as a mentor in Aspire to Her’s Mentorship Program.

Today, most jobs are found by connecting with people, rather than applying online, indicating that networking is the highest value job-search activity. However, getting a job isn’t the only value-add in joining a professional network. I’ve seen countless opportunities come through connections, in the form of mentorship, career growth, internships, jobs, and more. Building a network of like-minded individuals can create relationships to lean on, support upskilling in the function you’re in (or looking to grow in), and provide tactical or career advice.

The strongest relationships are built over time. So get started now.

For networks to pay dividends, you need to invest in them. Take the time to invest in yourself, your career growth, and the people around you, including coworkers, peers, mentors, and bosses. There are plenty of communities out there to join, such as our Mastermind Networks; the important thing is to take the leap and start now.

Interested in joining a professional community? Sign up for Primary's Mastermind Networks here.