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Networking Without Firewalls: Tips for Building and Maintaining your Professional Network

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…

16 Comments
smttysmth02gt
Level 13

Thanks for the article.  This is definitely one area that I've struggled with in the past.

df112
Level 13

Ditto here.  I know it helps so much, but as a major introvert it's been one area in career development that has been a real struggle for me.

df112
Level 13

Love your title by the way.  Perfect for the audience.

bobmarley
Level 15

And there is Thwack !

sparda963
Level 12

I think that is a common problem for a lot of IT people. I know I am pretty introverted when in social situations myself.

david.botfield
Level 13

Thanks for the Article. Never been one for LinkedIn but maybe I'll take a look.

bobmarley
Level 15

Not too many introverts where I work, anyone could break out into a song or a dance at any time

rschroeder
Level 21

That environment sounds fun!  I wish it were so where I work.

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df112
Level 13

Yep - the perfect way to socialize together separately.

ecklerwr1
Level 19

I do this as well but... I'm very reserved about what information I let out onto the internet.  Also LinkedIn can totally spam your email address.

vinay.by
Level 16

Nice write up

oby
Level 10

WOW

rschroeder
Level 21

It can be helpful to have multiple e-mail addresses to limit your spam exposure.

I also use dead-end e-mail addresses that are valid but never checked, for filling in those annoying pages that require registration before you can view potential resources behind the front access page. 

Back in the 1960's and '70's my peers would sign up each other, or neighbors, for mailing lists--purely as a minor bit of mischief.  Sometimes to get access to free fishing tackle or other prizes, or even $10; usually these offers were in comic books or perhaps Boys Life or some outdoor fishing or hunting magazine.  The worse that seemed to happen might be additional paper in the mailbox, or a vacuum cleaner or encyclopedia salesman might call or write or actually stop by with a cold call.

Today, sharing someone's e-mail address with any vendor is a shortcut to ridiculous amounts of unsolicited e-mail.  I've vote for it to be illegal, with stiff penalties and easy tracking, and easy deletion of those mail lists at the problem vendors.  Maybe this could happen if we had a world government, or a body with teeth that could take on all spam lists everywhere.

df112
Level 13

Use that trick myself.  I have a spam only address, one just for business, one for personal, and one that's only for family.  Helps to cut the junk.

You do have to be careful to make sure they don't get connected by the click track folks though.

d09h
Level 16

Definitely thwack.  Which has given me Slack access as an MVP. Which leads to more networking. Haven't been to a SWUG yet.  Attending industry conferences leads to interesting reunions.  In contracting and all its fluidity, it feels like 2-3 degrees of separation.

If you are an identical twin like me, you know more people than you think you do.

Was 3000 miles from home a few weeks ago and a few guys recognized each other from previous contracts.  Also, Cub Scouts was a neat way to meet IT professionals.  Met people in local companies I did not know existed.

rschroeder
Level 21

I'm reminded that sometimes we DO need firewalls outside of the physical/logical network--as we build our professional relationships.

We're told, by those who really know, that "social networking" is one of the big vulnerabilities to corporate security.  That a successfully "black hat" or "white hat" may hang out at local eateries or drinkeries (?) adjacent or convenient to businesses they wish to penetrate, looking for information to assist their goals.  Some reminders of where we need to "firewall" our social network building include, aren't limited to, people using social networking to gain information that can help them access a company by:

  • Watching realy employees covertly for badge design and color and layout so they may copy one to fake being an employee, and gain entrance by tailgating or saying their badge is malfunctioning.
  • Eavesdropping on employees to learn:
    • Who's the boss
    • What the chain of command may be
    • What projects are active
    • Where access into the building or business can be achieved
    • Site schedules and shift change hours
  • Joining the same social network (Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, others) and becoming you "friend" under false pretenses
    • Once someone has "friend" access status to your Facebook page, will they discover you've posted details about your work environment and work relationships that can be used to gain access into your facility?  Information you share in "private" groups is never private.
    • If someone claims to be a fellow employee, and leverages that status to gain your trust online, anything you've shared in the past, and anything you mention in the present or in the future, becomes a tool for that person to use to try to get access into your company.  Or into your private life.

So as you build and maintain your professional network, put in some firewalls to protect yourself and your business from outside attention.

Don't:

  • Put trust in the friendly invite of a stranger to join your group
  • Believe everyone is what they say online
  • Add someone to your list of personal or work friends just because they request it