Build and maintain your professional network

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Earlier this week, we talked about networking events. Today, we’ll talk about your professional network and how to make the most of it.

We often hear about the “secret job market” and that your network will help you to advance your career. This is very true, however I believe that there may be a bit of confusion. I think the general message that is understood is that your network is built based on the people you meet at networking events, and in my opinion, that’s not entirely the case.

The core of your network will be people who know you and who know the quality of your work. Additionally, they are a group whom you can reach out to for a favour, a question or an issue you are working through and, in turn, they can reach out to you.

Your “incidental” network

A professional network is important regardless of who you are or what your profession is. If, at this point in time, you have not invested much time in building your network, don’t worry. This doesn’t mean that you don’t already have one. You have people who are incidentally in your network.

Your “incidental” network can include but is not limited to the following:

  • Current and former bosses and leaders
  • Current and former colleagues
  • Current and former suppliers or vendors
  • Current and former clients
  • Current and former classmates

So, as you can see, you already do have a core network that can serve as a jumping off point.

In the past, people had a Rolodex and these were where they housed their contacts. Today, we have LinkedIn. I would recommend setting aside a block of time and connecting with people in the aforementioned groups if you haven’t been deliberate about your professional network thus far. You can learn more about setting up or updating your LinkedIn profile here.

Build your network

You do need to be intentional to grow your network. As I mentioned in the introduction, participating in networking activities is one way.

Attending training or conferences is another way. I can’t speak for other places, but in Québec, there is a law, Law 90, which requires employers to invest at least 1% of the total payroll in training and skills development. Conferences and workshops related to your job can also be permitted under this law.

The great part about training is that you will likely meet people from other companies who do similar work as you do. It’s great to connect with these people for industry questions, but also if ever their company has a job opening or your does, it could be mutually beneficial.

If you are ever asked to represent your company in a professional capacity, do it. This is another fantastic way to grow your network. The best part is that when you represent your company, people will come and talk to you.

In the early days of LinedIn, it was considered good form to ask before connecting with someone but now, it’s totally fine to connect with someone with whom you had a good conversation. Always strike while the iron is hot and send out your LinkedIn invitations that evening or the next day.

Maintain your network

The key to maintaining your network is to be authentic. If you are naturally someone who is social and likes to check in and catch up with people, do that. If you are someone who prefers to contact someone with a specific intention, this is also fine.

The most important thing to remember is that you keep a give-and-take mentality with your network. If you need something, it’s great to ask, but don’t abuse your contacts. Let me share an example.

When LinkedIn started becoming popular, we recruiters were so excited because we saw the potential in platform and it opened new possibilities to find and hire prospective candidates. Very quickly however, a small group of recruiters, for lack of a better way of saying it, basically began spamming. They posted every job they were working on, multiple times per day in their networks. They began reaching out to people indiscriminately wanting access to their networks. In short, they were behaving with themselves in mind. Many saw folks leaving their networks then had to work even harder at networking to maintain equilibrium.

Of course, there will be periods when you are in “take” mode, such as when you are in a job search. This is perfectly fine. Just remember to pay it forward whenever someone reaches out to you.

A few closing words…

Remember that your network will evolve and change over time. There will be some people with whom you haven’t spoken to in years, and they will be happy to help whereas other relationships will dissolve. As you progress, and talk to others about how they manage their networks, you will learn what works best for you. You will never be “done” building your network. It will constantly be growing and evolving – like you!