Five tips to rejuvenate, expand and strengthen your professional networks

February 6, 2023

What do your professional networks have in common with fruit trees? If you tend to them regularly, they will provide you with the sustaining resources and support you need.

Your professional network isn’t a static number on a social platform, but rather an active ecosystem of human interactions, memories, common aspirations and future opportunities. It takes preparation and consistent effort to sprout a bountiful harvest that nourishes a thriving career.

Professional relationships play an invaluable role in helping you on your career journey. Often, adding new people to your circle is a way to intentionally seed and expand the possibilities of what your career pivots, outcomes and opportunities will grow into. Each connection you tend to will mature and “bear fruit” at its own pace, providing tangible rewards for your long-term care and patience.

The professional network is a small but mighty seedling for some, while others overflow with vast branching connections that are beginning to wilt with time, in need of some extra attention or careful pruning.

To that end, as you step more fully into 2023 and take stock of your career, it’s time to check on a gift that can keep giving abundantly if cared for properly.

Dig out your favorite gardening gloves and cultivate your professional networks with these five valuable lessons from your backyard fruit tree.

How to sow a “fruitful” professional network

  • Plant in healthy soil. What’s in the soil will determine the quality of the fruit the tree can bear. Thus, you must make sure that the base environment — your own mindset, self-awareness and professional ambitions as a healthy contributor — truly nurtures the kind of personhood and professional career you aspire to.
  • Water it. Without regular attention, your network can dry up. Keep the soils of your network fertile for connections, conversations and opportunities to take root by engaging regularly on professional social media networks such as OSU Connections, responding to others’ posts, setting up a coffee catch-up, or sending an out-of-the-blue text message or voice note of encouragement or a holiday greeting card.
  • Add fertilizer… and keep it organic. We gain the most when our networks are filled with honesty, candor and hope. Keep your professional relationships “real” and well-nourished by talking candidly about the ups and downs of your profession. To have a network full of people willing to share true life lessons that come through risk, mistakes and hardship is enrichment that will help your network grow solid and strong.
  • Cross-pollinate for healthy variety and innovation. Just as cross-pollination is essential to the long-term health and hardiness of the orchard, new relationships help you stretch beyond your comfort zone to add diverse perspectives of thinking, doing and achieving in your profession and future pivots. So, get out there and mingle! Find complementary connections within your network and be open to introducing others to share the fruitful yield with neighbors.
  • Prune to stimulate root growth. Sometimes professional relationships wither, no longer providing mutual benefit. First, assess whether a connection is lying dormant — can it be revived and continue to be generative with some extra effort? If not, it may be time to prune your network. Don’t worry, it’s normal for this to happen, so don’t give too much emotional energy to wilted branches that potentially crowd out new live-giving friendships awaiting your time and care.