Building a professional network is a necessity for anyone striving for a successful career. Internal promotions and job changes require more than just a solid track record; they require contacts. Having people in your professional circle provides you leads on new positions and aligns you with mentors that will help guide your career. A network of contacts should be well documented and maintaned often. Many people rely only on social networks like Linked In to keep track of these contacts. But creating your own document whether it be a simple spreadsheet or a more elaborate database gives you more control and ownership of the information. Collecting key information like names, phone numbers, email addresses and where you connected are the basics but anything else you find valuable can be included. Here are some things to consider.
Get Contact Information from Departing Co-Workers
If you stay at a company long enough you’ve read plenty of goodbye emails from colleagues. The brief note lets his closest co-workers know that today is his last day and it usually includes his personal contact information. The fact that he included you on his departing email should tell you he likely respects you and the work you do. Assuming you feel likewise you should include him in your network. Add his name and email address in your professional network database. At some point within the next couple of weeks email him congratulating him on a new position, give him your email and phone number and, if you don’t already have it, ask him for a contact number too. Add that number to your database and include him in your list of Linked In contacts as well.
Former coworkers are some of the best resources when you decide it’s time to job hunt. They work in the same industry and are familiar with your work ethic and ability to contribute to a company. And because you work at different places you can speak more openly with them. Collecting their contact information is an important step in building out your professional network.
Keep in Touch with Your Network in Good Times Too
People typically reach out to their professional network in times of crisis or when they’re ready to explore the job market. If you’ve been laid off in the past sending a mass email to these contacts is one of the first things you’re inclined to do. And emailing that same group in search of better opportunities is standard practice. But keep in mind that people don’t like getting contacted for position referrals or recommendation letters by someone they haven’t heard from in over a year. You should setup a schedule with calendar reminders to contact the people in your network on a more regular basis. Email each person individually asking how they are, what’s new in their personal life and how they like their current employer. Try not to talk about job hunting or ask if they can help you get a new job. The brief email or phone call will go a long way to continue a business relationship. And they’ll remember you when it is time to reach out for assistance or advice.
Join External Professional Networks
It’s important to meet professionals in your field whom you don’t currently work with. Most industries have one or more major professional organizations or societies. The sports industry itself has several including the North American Society for Sport Management. Belonging to these groups looks nice on a resume but, more importantly, they give you another sure fire way to build up your network. Many of the people you meet at dinners, volunteer events and happy hours won’t be current co-workers but may work at a company you are interested in. You’ll get valuable insight into how other companies operate and your conversations will help shape how you want to grow your career. Attend After Work Events and Volunteer Through Your Company Depending on the size of your place of work you may only interact with a small percentage of your fellow employees. There could be a large number of people that may work in different departments but share common bonds with you. You may not cross paths day-to-day with them but there are ways to make a connection. Take advantage of volunteer opportunities organized by your company. Colleagues who participate in these activates are often leaders and make great mentors. Meeting and networking with them is a way to add quality people to your network. Attending post-work gatherings like happy hours and charity or speaking events also allow you to meet people you may otherwise not meet. You can add some of them to your database of contacts and utilize them for a future job recommendation or just for some career advice. There are a seemingly endless number of ways to build out your professional network. Some require more effort than others but many are simple and go a long way. No one but you drives the success of your career but utilizing other people for advice, references and position referrals certainly helps. Take time to connect with others and maintain the relationships you’ve made. Your career will be more successful for doing so.