Networking - Developing Your Professional Contacts
Networking is a term we hear commonly and it is one that we're told is
important. But what is a non-technological network and why is it perhaps your
most essential job search tool?
What Is a Network?
In its most simple terms, a network is a group of people who can help you to
make connections. Your professional network consists of
practitioners/professionals in your career field of interest or other people who
have links to people who do.
The value of a network is that it provides access to information not readily
available from print or online resources. Practitioners in a field can provide
stories from the trenches: what their experiences have really been like, what
they enjoy, what they find challenging, what they have personally found
Practitioners can provide an insider's perspective on a particular organization:
what's it really like to work there? They can help you surface trends about
where the field might be evolving and what skills/knowledge base will prove
useful, and provide information about job opportunities within the field and how
to access them.
Perhaps most important of all, practitioners can link you to others working in
the field. This is critical as you work to:
Establish Your Network - It's Easier Than You Might Think
The first step in establishing your network is to determine who might already
be in it. Your goal is to be as inclusive as possible - it's not just about what
people know, but also who they may know.
Start by making a list of people in your existing network. Be sure to include:
- Friends (and their friends and family)
- Acquaintances at the health club
- Anyone else you can think of
Don't rule people out because you think you know what and who they know. You may
have always known someone in one particular way, but they may have information
or contacts or access to these you never knew about. Consider discretely sharing
your career "needs" with them and ask who they know who may be willing to speak
with you on an informational basis.
Important: before you decide to initiate career conversations with co-workers
and/or employers, think carefully. Will you put your job or working
relationships in jeopardy if you let it be known that you're planning to move
Your existing network may yield professional contacts that will help you move
your career forward - whether you are at the information/decision-making stage
or ready to secure a position. But it might not. If that's the case you need to
go outside your immediate network and make contact with people not known to you.
These "outsiders" may include:
- Leaders in your field of interest
- People whose work you've read in professional publications
- People who hold similar jobs to the one you're hoping to secure
- Who else?
Why might potential contacts even consider speaking with you? There are actually
- Good will - let's them return a favor to whoever referred you
- Ego - enjoy being identified as an expert in their field
- Curiosity about the academic program you're in - perhaps someone in their family is thinking of coming to RIC
- Might have an opening and this is an way to screen a potential candidate without formally scheduling an interview
- Might want to encourage people to enter this growing field - in which there are more positions than qualified candidates
- Maybe establishing their own networks and you're a potential contact for them
How will you approach contacts?
If you are referred to an as-yet-to-be-developed contact by someone in your
existing network, ask for their suggestion on how best to contact this new
person and when. Can you use your current contact's name and say they encouraged
you to connect?
If you are making contact without the benefit of a referral, it might be best
to send an introductory letter letting them know that you would like to speak
with them and why and that you will follow-up to ask if that is possible. You
may choose to include a resume to provide background information.
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Utilize Your Network
Once you have developed a core of contacts for your network, it's time to
utilize these contacts to move your career forward.
First, be clear in your own mind how this professional contact may be of help to you.
- Trying to learn more about a particular career field?
- Deciding in what environment you would prefer to work?
- Learning from an industry insider how to best access job openings in your career field of choice?
- Learning more about the organization your contact works for?
- Wanting to know the best strategies for applying to the organization your contact works for?
Once you know what you need to get out of the interaction you can then determine
if it makes more sense to meet with this person on a formal or informal basis.
Business etiquette suggests that you follow certain protocol that demonstrates
consideration for your contact's schedule and time as well as professionalism.
- Request a modest amount of their time (~ one half hour)
- Be flexible if they have to cancel and reschedule
- Prepare your questions in advance
- Follow-up with a thank you letter
If you meeting with the person to explore a career field in greater depth, you will want to:
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- Be well-prepared for this meeting - develop your questions in advance
- Always ask for additional contacts so you can continue to expand your network
- Ask about professional publications you might want to read
- Ask about professional associations you might want to join
- Ask what you missed - what didn't you ask that would be important for you to know?
- NEVER ask for a job
Maintain Your Network
A powerful professional network has a life of its own and requires "care" at
regular intervals - after all, you never know when you might need to put it to
use again. Also, networking is a multidirectional venture. At times you will be
seeking support and/or information from your network. Other times you can
provide support and/or information to those within your network.
Ways that you can care for your network include:
- Nurturing your current contacts
- Continually adding new contacts
Nurture your current contacts. Keep them appraised
of your professional progress. Did you follow-up with contacts to whom you've
been referred? Have you secured a position? Share information with them you
believe they may find useful - perhaps an article you're recently read. Be
available to help people they refer to you.
Continually expand your network. Your network
should be ever evolving. Perhaps you don't want to over-utilize your existing
contacts. They may move out of the field and possibly out of your network. Your
professional needs will change as your career progresses and your current
network might not yield the contacts you will then need. Keep your network alive
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