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Nurturing your Professional Network

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In a recent conversation with a former work colleague he shared with me that he had not paid much attention to his professional network over the past few years as his job consumed his professional life. He asked for my advice regarding how to “re-engage” and expand his professional network.

 My initial response was to ask him a set of preliminary questions: 1. How extensive is your professional network? 2. Was it built primarily through in person or online interactions? 3. Do you have your network organized in a database or is it in your rolodex? 4. Are you (or have you been) active in professional associations in the past? 5. Is your renewed interest in your network due to wanting to open up or seize opportunities within your current company or are you looking to make in change in your job or career?

The answers to these questions framed my advice to him.  This person has been “on the sidelines” as professional networking has take off online through professional networking sites such as LinkedIn , had no contact database, had assigned no structure to his professional network, had been active in professional associations and had not been active in the past few years, and was looking to make a change within his industry.   

The most important consideration for me before dispensing my advice was in understanding why he was refocusing on his network so my advice would have the most impact in helping him reach his objective.  My advice to him was as follows:

1.       Create a simple Excel sheet with all of his professional contacts that included all of their relevant contact information including his last contact with them, the nature of the contact, and the current and potential value of his connection with them.

2.       Reach out to his “top tier” contacts by phone to catch up and let them what he was up to in his career and why he was reaching out to them. I also asked him to consider what value being connected to him would bring to each of these contacts.

3.       Reach out to his lower tier contacts via e-mail.

4.       Construct a wish list of the professional contacts including job titles and companies with which he wanted to build professional connections.

5.       Begin to build an online brand and start with building a complete profile on LinkedIn.

6.       Re-engage in professional associations and leverage his involvement to make the connections you desire.

I would appreciate any additional input to provide to my friend which I also believe will prove useful to those (including me) who need to give their professional networks the attention they deserve.

Answers

Jeff Taylor
Title: CFO
Company: Communications Co.
(CFO, Communications Co.) |

This brings me back to what I always consider the Achilles heel of most people's networking, including my own: the time to build your network is when you don't need it. Starting once you are out of work is way too late.

As much as you don't like going to those bi-monthly dinners, as much as you don't have time to volunteer on that committee, you have to put in those hours over the years in order to build the relationships and the network that will serve you well over your entire career.

What you will also find is that the thing that starts as a chore may well end up being a great, fun activity once you have built the relationships.

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