Career networking is as important as ever and a great tool to help propel your career to new heights. Research shows that effective networking in professional and personal spaces is a good way to help secure a bright future in the corporate world. Such is the power of a strong network that for a person about to lose his employment, it can assure him a new job even before the old one is lost.
With IT saturating the globe, networking is an essential activity for IT professionals. Effective networking will help you know those people in your industry who can help grow your career from average to outstanding.
Before you begin networking, honestly ask yourself what you hope to get from your network. Do you hope to find a new job or business, to improve your customer base, or just seek out different opportunities in IT? Knowing your networking goals will help you focus on strategies to build your database of useful and rewarding contacts. Here are seven steps to help you build an effective career network.
Start with Your Current Contacts
Friends are a good way to begin building your network. It’s usually easier to renew old friendships than establish new ones. When you get together with friends, remember to talk about what you and they are doing at work and also discuss your professional interests. Talking about and sharing similar interests, discussing career goals, and introducing each other to useful contacts will help expand your network.
You shouldn’t, however, try to network with everyone all the time. Be selective. Look for those you can help, and who can help you. Think through your list of friends and colleagues on a regular basis. Keep in touch with former colleagues. Maybe e-mail an article to a friend that may be of interest to that person, or invite an old work colleague to a quick lunch or social gathering. People who belong to the same industry as you and can connect you with companies and people they currently work for. They can also make you aware of new job opportunities that are a good fit for you.
It’s never too early to begin building a network of friends and associates. A lot of people only start networking when their job is at risk. At that point, it’s too late. An existing strong network can really help you in such a situation. You can ask network members about their job-hunting approaches, good and bad. Listen to what they say and learn from their experiences. Such information can help you save time and avoid disappointment.
If you are still in school or new on a job, you can begin building a network of like-minded IT professionals. Cultivate friendships and maintain regular contact — there will come a time when someone needs you, and a time when you’ll need a friend as well.
An occasional phone call or exchange of greeting cards on a holiday is a great way to keep contacts fresh. Use your imagination and be creative, there are as many ways to keep in touch as there are people. Think of other innovative ways to follow up with them from time to time, although make sure your choice of getting in touch is convenient for them — even the best of friends need space from one another.
Nothing beats an in-person interaction with a potential network connection. One good way to do this is to ask for informational interviews with others in your same or a related industry. Study up on their jobs and industries a bit, then arrange a brief visit to ask some questions about what they do, their challenges, and so forth.
Another way is to be aware of social or professional events that bring people in your field together: job fairs, trade shows, receptions, and so forth. People tend to be more relaxed and open in a social setting. While attending these events, you can exchange your cards with people so that they can contact you later and vice versa.
While there, be sincere and genuine. You are there to look for contacts who can be of assistance to you, but look also for those you may be able to help in some way.
Utilize Social Networking Sites
LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, and others social networks are quite popular and offer an easy way to keep up with past colleagues, classmates and friends. Join online groups and associations in which you have an interest, and attend their events when possible.
When with these groups, be involved; ask and answer questions. Share your knowledge and show you’re interested in helping the group. Not everyone you meet will be a solid contact, but if you treat people with respect and are genuine, you will meet enough good people to make it worthwhile.
Organize Your Network
An unorganized network is just a bunch of names and numbers and not much use to you. Categorize your contacts into friends, colleagues and others who may have potentially useful contacts for you.
A few tips to organize them are:
Use Gmail, Outlook or another program to help you keep in touch. List those people you can regularly contact and people whom you may only wish to contact only once or twice. An online calendar is a great way to set up reminders of when to follow up with them.
Also, write down bits of information about your contacts, like when you last contacted them, their significant achievements, and important dates like birthdays or anniversaries. Add notes about their particular professions, how you may be able to help them, and so forth. People like it when others remember something they think is important.
Remember to Reciprocate
Networking is a give-and-take scenario. It’s very important that help and support be generously shared. Experts suggest that whenever you meet somebody in whom you see a prospective connection, you should also think about how you can help them in return. This will make the relationship mutually beneficial.
As you share your important information with them make certain to ask and learn as much as possible about their business. You can’t help them if you don’t know their needs and challenges. Also, be supportive if a situation or crisis hits a member of your network. Remember, what goes around comes around.
Observe Etiquette Always
Networking etiquette should be observed at all times.
● Be respectful towards your contacts. Seek their approval before using them as a referral, or asking them for something.
● Keep promises. If you offer to share a particular piece of information, contact or link to an article, do so in a timely manner. Your contact will appreciate it and remember that it was you who shared it.
● Always express your gratitude. Be sincerely grateful to contacts who extend their help. Acknowledge their kindness by personally thanking them, even if the idea or lead didn’t pan out the way you hoped.
To sum things up, networking is a tool that can help you advance in your career. It also helps a person grow personally as they develop interpersonal skills. It not only instills humility, but also a desire to serve others — a rare combination found only in the best people.