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Building, Growing and Maintaining a Professional Network

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Group of businesspeople standing in front office building
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What is a Professional Network?

A professional network is a group of people who are connected to one another.  Members, often referred to as contacts or connections, have mutually supportive relationships. Individuals can help one another in a variety of ways. While many think of networking as a means to learning about employment opportunities, networking can be useful throughout one's career.

How Networking Can Help You With Career Advancement

In addition to providing job leads when you are searching for work, here are other ways having a strong network can benefit you:

  • When you are trying to choose a career, you must gather information about the occupations you are considering. One of the best ways to learn about an occupation is to conduct an informational interview with someone who is currently working in it. You can look to your network for help in finding people to interview.
  • If hiring is one of your responsibilities, your contacts can help put you in touch with prospective job candidates.
  • Are you worried about tackling a work project with which you have no experience? A member of your network may be able to help you or may be able to put you in touch with someone who can. One note of caution: be careful about sharing information that your employer wants to keep confidential.
  • Are you interviewing for a job? Get information about a potential employer before you go on an interview.
  • Do you need to learn about a prospective client? One of your contact may be able to help you. As pointed out about, you should be careful about sharing your employer's confidential information.

Who Should Be In Your Network?

Your network can be made up of almost anyone you've ever met and each of your contacts can lead you to new ones. Be selective about whom to include though. The larger your network, the more difficult it will be to manage.

  • Current and Former Co-Workers: Those you currently work with as well as those you've worked with in the past can be part of your network.
  • Your Co-Members in Professional Associations: When you become an active member in a professional association, for example by serving on a committee, you will increase your chances of meeting people. It will also give your colleagues a chance to see you in action.
  • Friends and Family: Keep your family and friends apprised of your career goals. You never know who will end up having the ability to help you. Your brother-in-law's uncle's cousin may be a recruiter in your field.
  • Former Professors and Instructors: Your former professors and instructors most likely worked in your field or at least have some connections.
  • Former Classmates: The alumni directory of your college (and of your fraternity or sorority if you belong to one) can provide you with contacts to add to your network.

How To Keep It Going

After you establish your network, you will need to keep it alive. If you don't, you may be disappointed to find that it's not there when you need to access it. This is fairly easy and just requires a little bit of your time. To keep your network alive stay in touch with your contacts apprising them of your job changes, promotions and any other career-related news. Provide help when your contacts ask you for it. If someone gives you a job lead or a reference, always send a thank you note. Attend professional meetings and conferences.

Connecting Online

There are Web Sites that provide online networking opportunities but you must be aware of the difference between social and professional networks. LinkedIn, for example, is a professional network. Facebook is a social network. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be used for professional networking, but if you do use it in that way, make sure to put forth a professional image. Hint: no compromising photographs or statuses.

What To Do If You're Shy

Some of us, by nature, suffer from shyness and therefore find it very difficult to approach people. How do you network if just saying hello to a stranger sends shivers up your spine? The experts say that you shouldn't change your personality and suddenly become outgoing. You should put yourself in situations where you will have the opportunity to meet people. For example, doing volunteer work will give people a chance to see you in action and possibly approach you. This will also give you the opportunity to establish rapport with them.

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