We have all heard the saying “It’s who you know, not what you know.”  There is truth in the statement. Your personal network can help you succeed in your career and take you places you would not have considered or been given the opportunity. I am a living example of that saying. Without my professional network, I would not be where I am today in my career. You need to invest in your professional network to help build your career. This is one network that doesn’t require complex firewalls.

 

Why do you want to build your professional network?

 

Resumes are only part of the equation when it comes to your career. Your resume is your history of events, but your professional network is what encompasses all that history and completes your story. Networking is more than helping you find a new job. The people you meet can expose you to ideas and interests that you may not have ever considered. When you build your network, you are not only expanding your own knowledge, but also the knowledge of the people you meet.

Meeting more people leads to more opportunities, which leads to meeting more people and more opportunities, and the cycle continues to grow. Often, jobs are not posted and if someone is in your network, they may reach out to you if you’re a fit. People recommend people they like; there is no other way to put it. You never know if you might find a dream job simply by meeting someone new.

You don’t need to be looking for a job to use your network. I have reached out to my network countless times on certain projects I have worked on for ideas or recommendations. The same is true for my contacts as they have reached out to me for advice as well. Networking builds relationships that can help deliver results down the road.

 

How to build it and keep it strong

 

Making the time – You must plan and commit time to networking. This can be done by going to local meetups or conferences. You also must be present to meet people. Talk and engage with others. You may be nervous if you don’t know anyone, but keep in mind there are probably others in the same boat as you. You don’t have to be the social butterfly of the room. Try introducing yourself to one person and see where it goes from there.  If you’re at a meetup, most likely you’re in the same industry with similar work or technologies.

Have the right tools – Having the right tools is essential. Create that LinkedIn profile if you haven’t done so. Carry a few business cards with you. Yes, people still carry business cards in this digital age. If you don’t have business cards for your job, there is nothing stopping you from creating your own personal business cards. I have a set of work business cards and a set of my own personal branded cards. Depending on the situation, I will hand one of them.

Online networks – Connecting and meeting with people in person is great, but sometimes that is not always possible. Online forums and communities are a great way to expand your network.  You can build credibility by helping answer questions and giving your insights. THWACK and Microsoft Tech Community are great places to start because they have many groups you can be members of.  If you’re looking for more specialized communities, the VMware VMTN and VMUG communities are another great spot for online engagement.

Stay connected and in touch - Making the connections is one thing, but staying connected will build and strengthen your network over time. Connect via LinkedIn. Engage in conversations through the online communities you are a part of. Don’t be afraid to post a comment if you read a great post by someone. Using social media like Twitter is another great way to connect with others in the industry. There have been so many great opportunities provided to me through Twitter. No one says you need to be a Twitter celebrity to join the conversations. Follow people in the industry and see what conversations can bring about. If you’re unsure of who to follow, you can always start off with @exchangegoddess…