We live in a society of networks. There are social, business, community, school, neighborhood and local networks that all of us are part of and interact with every day. In fact, I will argue that our lives are becoming more network-centric.
Thanks to the internet, that network can be in person or an ephemeral electronic network connecting you to individuals half a world away. In my opinion, it’s not the network itself that can help you grow professionally and personally, but rather how you use and interact with your network.
I’ve been a member of Gainesville’s business community for a little over two years after serving 11 years as an active duty Naval officer. In this short time, I learned that Gainesville is a network-centric city with distinct business communities and activities. I was able to successfully integrate into this network, and this networking assisted me during my transition from the active duty military to Gainesville’s business community. During this process, I learned a few lessons that worked for me and that I hope will help you strengthen your network.
Before I started networking here, I created a clean professional business card. Let me share a tip about collecting cards, one that I learned because I’m horrible with names. When someone handed me their business card, I kept it, wrote notes on the back and added it to my contact notebook.
During my career search, I had to learn to be honest and upfront with new acquaintances and state that I was beginning a job search and was looking to launch my civilian career in operations management.
Just about everyone you meet has, at one point or another, been where you are – either actively searching for a new job or simply looking to grow their professional network. And, in my experience, most of them are more than happy to pay it forward by making that introduction or meeting for a quick cup of coffee to exchange ideas and advice.
Lastly, one of the most important facets for networking success is being ready to follow up with your new contact when he or she says, “Yeah, send me a resume, I know a Mr. Jones, who might be good to talk to.”
Those connections are awesome, but you have to immediately follow up with an email that includes your resume. If you wait too long, you risk that person forgetting about the conversation and their offer to help. Besides, as a professional, making that prompt phone call or sending an immediate email builds your reputation as a courteous, responsive and conscientious person.
As part of my networking experience, I found that if I was willing to share knowledge with my network, that investment would pay dividends in the future. All of us have unique skills, experiences and knowledge that are in demand by others.
Your willingness to share those unique skill sets will pay it forward and can open the door to new contacts that may advance your professional growth. Remember, good deeds and actions can create good professional karma.
Networking is an investment that you will make many deposits into with the hope that a future withdraw will really pay off. Networking led to several introductions during my job search, and it brought me to an interview where I was able to present my skills and knowledge to my current employer, Tapesouth.
Of course, getting a job is important, but also, I’ve found networking paid off because I feel like a more plugged-in citizen of Gainesville. I’ve learned a few backstories here and there, but, most importantly, I am learning the ins and outs of what is causing our city to grow and succeed. I plan to keep investing in my network for professional growth. Besides, Gainesville is my home, and I want to contribute and be involved.
When it comes to networking, I don’t think there are any earth-shattering secrets besides being willing to put yourself out there, talking with people in your field of interest, sharing your knowledge and being a polite and consummate professional.