Why networking alone won’t get you to the top

Valerie Rainford is used to defying expectations.

She was the highest-ranked African American woman at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York when she left her role there as Senior Vice President, an accomplishment she never even thought to dream of as a child. But it seemed like the natural result of a life of determination and diligence. “I was a hardworking kid who didn’t really have a choice, because I had to help out my single mom,” she said.

She grew up being shuffled between homes and paid her own way through college. Along the way, she learned the value of making connections and advocating for herself, and used those skills to forge a successful career. Today, she works to inspire rising talent, as Head of Advancing Black Leaders & Diversity Advancement Strategies at JPMorgan Chase.

And she encourages young professionals to take unexpected approaches to getting noticed in their careers, too. Here, she shares some advice for standing out to the people who can help you fulfill your dreams.

“To many, I’m known as the queen of the one-pager,” Rainford said. “I believe that every employee, no matter their level, needs to be able to articulate their value, progress and accomplishments for a given time period on one single page.” Rainford prepares one-pagers for every month of her work. In addition to being a useful document for meetings, she said, it can also help you become more skilled in the dreaded “elevator pitch.”

“When you bump into someone and they ask what you’re working on, it will come more quickly to you. It’s good discipline to know what your contribution has been, even if you don’t use it in every meeting,” Rainford said.

This one might go against conventional wisdom, since, according to career experts, 70 percent of jobs are not published. Rainford, however, has developed her own formula for success:

Success = excellence + exposure

Exposure means that, in addition to doing good work, you make sure the right people know you’re doing it. “A lot of people think about building relationships the wrong way,” she said. “They think about it as ‘networking,’ about how to meet people over a drink.”

Instead, she advises, “think about it as, how do you get to know the people who benefit from what you do? Find out who these people are, and establish a relationship with them around work.”

To get a real sense of how you’re performing, you need an honest environment. “It takes the right rapport and the right feedback,” Rainford said, calling that the “secret sauce” in the success equation. However, for feedback to be useful, you need to be able to handle it. “Enter all relationships as if you welcome feedback,” she urged. But she admitted it can be hard. “You have to be thankful for it and positive in receiving it; you have to teach yourself not to be defensive. Your first response should always be, ‘Thank you for that.’”

Rainford blocks off periods of her calendar for reflection every single day. “That’s when I try to get my head around what I didn’t get to do today and what I need to do tomorrow,” she said. On Fridays, she gives herself extra time to assess the week gone by and plan for the week ahead. “You have to figure out what did I do, what was I supposed to do, what do I have to do?” she adds. If you don’t know where you are, you’re less able to figure out where to go next.

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Rainford stresses the importance of investing in your own success.

“A lot of people think someone’s going to come along and make them successful,” she said. “They think, if I come in and do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll get recognized.”

But that’s not always how it works.

“It takes a combination of strong performance and the right relationships — not just any relationships—to progress.”


This content was adapted from a piece created by OZY and JPMorgan Chase and was originally published here.

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