May 6, 2008 2 Comments
Perhaps you’ve never been a Boy Scout. Whether you have or not, the Scout motto – Be Prepared – is a good one to consider right now.
You’re read about all the recent layoffs in many industries. You’ve heard about, or been part of, one or more of the many mergers in recent years. There is simply no more certainty in corporate America. Your future is in your hands, and you need to be prepared to take the reins at any time. In fact, even if you are gainfully employed, you need to take the reins right now. Let me suggest one simple word for each of us:
The time to build a network – a professional and social web of contacts who can help out when needs arise – is now. It is very likely that your next career move (horizontally) or advancement (vertically) will come about because of pre-existing relationships. While you can post a resume on-line that the world can (theoretically) see, so can a few billion other people. Doors are opened by people who listen to the recommendations and referrals of other people.
How do you build a wider professional network? Let me suggest a few straightforward steps:
1. Embrace networking as a high priority, and determine to do it. Yep, it starts with an act of the will. Maybe you’re not a native schmoozer (I’m not). Maybe you’re introvert-ish (I am). Maybe you think, “I can never build relationships like so-and-so.” Actually, you can. You might not have the same ease as some, but believe me, you can do it, and even become good at it.
2. Help others. That’s right, don’t start with your immediate or future needs. The best way to build a network marked by mutual help and sympathy is to help others. You may have been schooled in the “me-first” ladder-climbing corporate mentality. Drop that like a bad transmission. When you pro-actively offer to help people, you’ll be shocked at how popular you become.
3. Focus on one drop at a time. You can’t just turn the spigot and gush out a flood of networked contacts. But you can greet one new person a day. You can help out one co-worker today. You can reach out to someone in a similar professional role with a question. Networking should be seen as incremental and cumulative – it becomes a lifestyle, not a one-time act.
4. Attend meetings. Not the kind that clog your daily calendar (well, I guess you should attend those, too)! Go to national conferences, join local chapters of professional societies, expand your network beyond the next few cubicles. New opportunities may open up from unexpected directions.
5. Cultivate healthy vendor relationships. Vendors and consultants often know “what’s going on” outside your four walls, and may be able to facilitate new contacts for you. Weed out the sharks, and find those people who are genuine, service-oriented, and personable (this goes for recruiters as well). If they do good work for you, recommend them to others. That will definitely increase your bank account of good will!
6. Take advantage of the web-based networking platforms. I highly recommend LinkedIn (see graphic) for helping expand your network through electronic means. Facebook is usually for more personal/social contacts but can also be valuable. Create a very robust professional profile and don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations and new links with others.
7. Cultivate a limited circle of influential, wise, discreet professional colleagues. These are the trusted advisers you can turn to when you see storm clouds on the horizon – your early-warning safety net. These are your serious allies who will go the extra mile for you when the ground starts to shake.
8. Be “findable.” Who will rise to the top these days, when there is information overload? Those who can be quickly found (especially on-line), and who make a professional and interesting self-presentation before the need ever arises. If you have the drive and the ability to write, create a blog around your interests. If you can engage in electronic discussions, jump into Twitter. Put your talent and creativity and accomplishments out there. When people Google you, they should find you, AND be impressed.
The time to network is not just when your job is in danger. Build your safety net now – and be part of the safety net for others. We have to build our own these days – we cannot count on any kind of corporate stability for our professional well-being!