If you have not already, you will soon hear a variation of the statement that in business, it is not what you know, but who you know that matters and will be the best catalyst for your career. Most business professionals will also add that who knows you is also very important. All of these statements is just another way of saying that building and maintaining a professional network is very important at all stages of your career, but most importantly at the beginning. Below are five tips for building and maintaining a network that will help boost your career and set you on a path for success.
Join a professional organization.
All industries have them, and most have local chapters that will instantly connect you with people who work in your same area. Typically, these groups are led by professionals who volunteer their time to develop programs that will benefit the groups’ members. The groups meet monthly or quarterly at a local restaurant or venue. These meetings involve a presentation on a timely topic or a more informal opportunity to network and get to know one another better. Because members share a common profession or background, it is a safe and easy place to build a professional network.
Join or create an employee affinity group.
Many large organizations have affinity groups that are aimed at bringing together employees who have similar backgrounds or things in common. Many corporations have groups for working parents, veterans, new employees, certain ethnicities, LGBT employees, women engineers, and other affiliated groups. Often, these groups are open to any employee, not just those that meet any specific criteria. This is a way to meet others in your company with a similar background.
Represent your work group or department on a cross functional team.
Many projects are cross-functional and present great opportunities for employees to meet people from other areas of the company. If your manager is looking for someone from the team to join one of these teams, volunteer and you’ll not only meet new people, but learn a lot about other areas of the company as well.
Never Eat Alone.
There is actually a whole book by this name about this very topic. Take the opportunity to eat lunch with people from different areas of the company or even from other companies. Getting to know others in an informal or social setting, such as lunch or a happy hour, can only strengthen the network that you’re building.
Stay in touch, even when you do not need anything.
Maintaining your network is nearly as important as creating it in the first place. It takes time and energy to maintain your network and stay in touch with those in it. Don’t be the person who only gets in touch when you need something. Stay in touch, schedule lunches, coffee, or happy hour with those who you’ve met and with whom you have something in common. It makes leveraging the network when you need it a much easier task.
As you can see, there are several easy ways to create and maintain the all important professional network. Focusing on this earlier in your career can create habits that will serve you well for years to come.
Post by Meg Ferguson Roughen (SEAS ’02)
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