Building Your Professional Network

December 15, 2010 at 7:53 pm Leave a comment


I hear so many people tell me that they don’t know where to start when building a professional network.  They say that they don’t like “selling themselves” to people or spending time rubbing elbows.  I think there is a misperception as to why a person needs a professional network and how to go about it.  Sure, some people just make friends easily.  Good for them!  For others, it’s a good idea to have a few tried & try ways to build your list of contacts.

First, why even have a professional network?  A professional network can be helpful when working towards finding a new position but there are other benefits:

  • When trying to fill a position – it’s a great place to turn to see if anyone knows a strong candidate.  That does not mean hire your friends!  My point is that you should get some leads through your network.
  • When you are working on a problem at work and need some expert help, turn to your network for ideas.  If they don’t have the answer, they might know someone who does!
  • Use your network to find other opportunities to share costs for training or books.  Talk to your contacts about who might be interested in jointly attending a training session to split the cost.

Now that we have some ideas of why you need a professional network – how to build one. 

I would suggest getting a LinkedIn profile setup (www.linkedin.com).  One of the great gifts of social media, in my opinion.  And do not confuse LinkedIn with Facebook or Twitter.  While Twitter can be used for professional development, Facebook should be used exclusively for your friends.  There are just some things that your professional contacts don’t need to know about – that includes hearing about how your kids are sick again, the great party over the weekend, or your favorite cartoon character from your childhood.

Once you have LinkedIn or another method identified, start thinking about your past.  Pull out a copy of your resume and write down 5 names of people from each job that you have had in the past.  And if you had more than one role at each company – include those too.  These shouldn’t just be people who you sat in a meeting with – these should be people who you respected in the workplace for their professionalism, skill or knowledge.  Look up those people and then look at who they are connected to.  That will help you remember other people who you may have forgotten.

Once you have made your list, send a note to each person.  Please do not use the standard template email from LinkedIn.  Customize it – tell the person why you are reaching out, recall a story from the past, maybe share something about what you are currently doing.

Once you have built a connection to a group of people, you need to maintain it.  It is not good enough to just “connect” to them via a tool.  You need to maintain it.  A rule of thumb – reach out to 5 people per week from your past.  Ask them how they are doing, send them an article that you read that you think they might enjoy, ask if they would like to go to lunch some time (eating alone does not build professional networks).

If you are in a leadership role within your organization, I would suggest that you help your teams build their networks.  You may worry that this could lead to job-hopping, but if your people are interested in leaving, it’s not likely something that was caused by networking as much as job dissatisfaction.  Having a team with a well-developed professional network can be an asset as it will give them a channel to learn and solve problems.

Building your professional network has a bad reputation.  It does not take as much effort as you suspect and it can be put to use for a good reason.

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Entry filed under: Career Development, Employee Development, Job Search, Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Considering the Cost Making a List – Checking it Twice

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