A professional network can be a valuable thing to have in one’s career toolkit if created and nurtured with understanding. It’s not for nothing that many IT workers consider a professional network to be indispensable. A thoughtfully managed set of connections can open up avenues to learn and grow professionally.
Networks aren’t ready-made, however, and interpersonal networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some find it distasteful, manipulative, or plain inauthentic, and cringe at the thought of schmoozing to further one’s career or business.
Even extroverts who enjoy socializing need to put some thought and effort into professional networking. Social and professional networks are not the same thing.
Do you need a professional network?
In your endeavours to forge ahead in your career, it could be worthwhile to consider the role an effective network can play. Knowing and engaging with more people in your profession means there will be more minds to help solve problems, and to offer valuable information about technology, companies, and job openings.
It also means people other than those you work with (or have worked with in the past) know about your qualifications, skills, and experience. A professional network, for example, is a great place to look for a professional reference. A network has the potential to expand your reach and give you professional connections you might otherwise never make.
The Internet has made it possible to have many more professional connections than before. You can now connect with people you have never met in person. All one needs to do is devote some time and thought to identifying the right contacts, and going on to interact with them, and forging relationships.
How one approaches networking makes a difference. Think about it as a mutually beneficial project, from a professional perspective: Even junior tech workers can share something that others on their network will appreciate.
For example, an IT professional could curate information about technological developments, and best practices in his or her area of specialization and share it on LinkedIn. A savvy IT professional could share insights on a number of topics. In general, professionals who have a genuine desire to help others can give more to their networks, and forge long-term relationships.
Benefits of a professional network
Your professional network is a set of connections that you intentionally establish. You develop and maintain these connections by building relationships in order to advance professional or business objectives. Many successful IT professionals and even corporate leaders have strong professional networks.
There are multiple ways in which a professional network can be helpful:
Job Opportunities: Many senior IT executives, hiring managers, and recruiters are on LinkedIn. When employers look for talent, they turn to social media profiles among other sources. It’s not uncommon for recruiters to hire professionals through LinkedIn and other social media sites. Also, hiring managers view social media profiles of candidates who respond to job advertisements.
An online network such as LinkedIn is also a good source of referrals.
Solutions to Problems: Networking gives you access to seniors and experts in your area who can offer valuable advice and help with intricate problem-solving. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask. Remember to say “thank you.” Mentors appreciate being thanked for guidance.
Information: A professional network is also a good source of information about your area of work, industry best practices, latest trends, and prospective employers. Before attending an interview, it’s best to find out as much as you can about the company from members on your network.
How to create and manage a professional network
Today, every professional has access to both in-person and online networking opportunities. With the vast reach of social media, building a network has never been easier. At the same time, platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter have made networking accessible to everyone. This makes it all the more important to develop a distinct profile or brand, so that you’re not lost in the crowd.
You have the option of making connections online as well as in person. LinkedIn is the best platform for online professional networking. Create a LinkedIn profile if you haven’t already got one. Your profile should be informative, credible, and interesting.
Once you have a profile, send invites to everyone you’ve dealt with professionally. Even if your professional interaction was short, it makes sense to connect because you need to grow your network. You might also want to connect with the college professors who taught your subject, and batch mates.
Twitter is another site that many use for professional and business networking. Identify and follow leaders in your field. Comment on tweets when you have something worthwhile to say. Share insightful tweets that show up on your timeline. Share useful content related to your specialization and industry. This is a good way to help others in your field and increase online interactions.
Networking in person can happen at industry events, such as conferences, alumni meets, and professional seminars. Also, doing enjoyable things, such as watching soccer, taking part in cooking classes, or joining a cycling group, with your colleagues or industry peers is a great way to get to know each other, learn, and make friends.
What comes next?
IT professionals create networks for a reason. They believe a professional network can be an enabling factor in advancing one’s career. It’s not enough to just collect contacts, though. Effective networking is about relationship building, about give and take.
A self-centred unilateral approach where you expect people to be there for you when required won’t work. You need to nurture your network, if your network is to work for you and others as well. Contacting people on your network only when you need a new job, or a recommendation, or have a problem that needs solving doesn’t send the right signals.
You don’t want to give anyone the impression that you’re using them. Always be authentic and think about what you can offer your connections in addition to what they can offer you. The focus should be on adding value and building strong relationships.
Social media offers the opportunity to initiate more relationships than you would have at the office or in other directly personal scenarios, such as conferences, training sessions, clubs, and social gatherings. Still, in order to build trust and nurture relationships, it’s important to meet in person every now and again.
It’s important to stay in touch with your contacts, preferably more than once a year. Wherever possible, meet up in person. Face-to-face conversations are normally more conducive to building rapport. Not all communication is verbal. When you interact with someone in person you have the opportunity to observe body language and pick up non-verbal cues, thereby helping you to understand a person better.
If you can’t meet in person, interact online as often as possible. Make adding and nurturing connections a part of your routine. At industry events or other occasions, introduce yourself to professional peers.
Once in a while, you may need to let go of contacts. This may happen if someone no longer wants to stay in touch or if a contact has been found guilty of wrongdoing.
In the age of automation and AI, networking gives you the opportunity to hone your people skills. And interpersonal skills are essential to success in any career. Even if your career path eventually exits the IT sphere, your network of professionals contacts can still help you move forward and continue to thrive.