When it comes to your professional network, the more the merrier, right? After all, more people = more chances for connection, word-of-mouth opportunities, etc. Sounds great in theory, but in reality, it might surprise you to learn that experts are recommending that you scale back your professional network and keep a smaller, more nimble group of people as your inner circle.
There’s some debate over what that number actually is—evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar famously did a study and determined that 150 is the magic number of maintainable social/professional relationships in anyone’s life. The reality is that there’s probably no rigid number for each person’s professional network, but your limit should be where you can reasonably maintain a professional relationship with someone.
If that sounds counterintuitive to you, here are some of the reasons you should think about downsizing your professional crew.
Your network should be carefully curated and tended.
The whole point of networking is the relationships. Think back to your kindergarten class. Can you remember the names all 20 or so kids, or do you remember just a small subset of friends or particularly memorable kids? Our brains are conditioned to keep the most important information and discard the rest, and our social relationships tend to follow suit. You want your network to be people who are the most relevant to your professional growth and goals—not necessarily every person you’ve met since you were an intern at XYZ Corp.
You want to focus on quality, not quantity.
Some people in your network are, quite simply, going to be more useful and relevant to you than other people will be. Taking a close look at your network and who still aligns with your current professional self and your hoped-for-future professional self can help you define your goals.
It’s okay to let people go.
An unwieldy network of connections might be a symptom that you have trouble letting go or don’t want to risk hurting anyone’s feelings. Realistically, professional network “breakups” are easier than other kinds of social pruning. The stakes are low if you stop following someone on Twitter or remove them as a connection on LinkedIn. If you don’t find someone’s insights useful or are not likely to ever have a conversation with them again, why keep them kicking around in the social media ether? You don’t need to be obvious or mean about it or make a dramatic announcement about how you’re making cuts. Plus, it’s unlikely your coworker from three jobs ago is likely to send you a devastated “whyyyyyyyy?” message afterward. Chances are, they were getting about as much out of the relationship as you were.
It gives you more bandwidth for long-term professional growth.
Limiting your network to a small inner circle lets you put in more time and energy into building those relationships—emails, occasional hangouts, check-ins, etc. Networking isn’t just about getting something from others; it’s about building yourself as well and finding your people. You want your interactions with your network to be mutually beneficial—not a chore or a one-way transaction for either of you. If you’re hitting up someone in your network only when you’re sniffing for an opportunity, then your calls/texts/emails are likely to start going ignored. On the other hand, if you put time into getting to know someone, you both get the benefit of each other’s expertise and a deeper knowledge of what each person has to offer.
When it comes to your network, remember: better, not more. There’s no prize for the number of LinkedIn connections, or the most “likes” on your latest professional rant on social media. You should be surrounded by people who know and support your goals, and vice versa—not hundreds of people who sort of know your name from scrolling through a newsfeed. You’ll find that your professional life—and your personal one as well—will be all the better for these higher-quality relationships.