Building and Maintaining a Professional Network
Whether you are aware of it or not, you have a professional network consisting of everyone you have ever worked with. It might include former classmates, neighbors, or people from volunteer groups you affiliate with. Anyone who knows your name and has an opinion about the quality of your work is part of that network.
As you mature professionally, your network can be a valuable asset when you are looking for information, recruiting, or seeking a new job—but only to the extent you have cultivated it over time and invested in it.
How do you get a good network? The obvious answer is to be honest, bright, hardworking, and personable, but there are other things you can do to grow and strengthen your network, too.
Be a good team member. Treat coworkers, managers, and business partners with courtesy and respect. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but you can disagree without being rude. You never know whom you might be critically dependent upon in the future.
Develop expertise. What do you want to be known for? Ask yourself this every year or so, and invest in further developing your credentials. Read books, blogs, or articles. Maybe take a class. Expertise is perishable and must be sustained.
Share information. Write articles, give conference talks, volunteer for professional organizations, and help others in your knowledge domain. Become the go-to person when people have questions in your area of expertise.
Don’t be an arrogant jerk. Don’t make other people feel stupid or inferior when you share information. We all know those people, and we avoid them.
Care about the people in your network. If you genuinely care about people and connect with them periodically when you don’t need anything, it strengthens your network and theirs, and it makes them more receptive when you do need something.
Be responsive. When people reach out to you, answer their email, return their calls, and help them if you can. Networking is a two-way street.
When applying for jobs, people often say, “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” This is the sour-grapes cry of someone who missed an opportunity. A better version is “It’s what you know and who you know that makes a difference.”