One of the most powerful tools you’ll ever use during your IT career is your personal network. It’s not the network that moves bits and bytes over some kind of media, it’s the kind of network that exists between one person and other people: to friends, family, schoolmates, churchgoers, teammates, and people you encounter. By some estimates, eighty percent of all jobs result from some type of personal networking activity. But make no mistake: networking isn’t just about job searching. It’s also about building long-term relationships that open doors to new opportunities, provide access to insider information and industry insights, and create synergy with others to last a lifetime. Networking can alter the course of your career, and perhaps even your life!
If you’re just entering the job market or you’re new to the concept of networking, the thought of building a personal network can be daunting. Before the thought overwhelms you, consider the fact that you’re already part of several networks. Networks are not limited to the professional environmentthey exist in every facet of your life. You’ll find that personal networks, such as your family, often overlap and intersect with networks from your professional life.
Building a Network
While it does take some work and attention, developing a network is fairly straightforward. To create your network, start with a list of those people who you know already. People on such a core network list generally include:
- Family and friends
- Current and former colleagues
- School or college friends
- Professional association contacts
- Members of general-interest clubs and job-search clubs
- Church members and clergy
- Insurance agents, bankers, brokers, and other financial professionals
- Physicians and personal trainers
Don’t leave anyone you know off your list, as this defines your core or primary network. The value of your core network is twofold: First, you already have an established and ongoing relationship with the people in your core network. These are people who want to help you. Second, your core network members can introduce you to their core networks as well. As you can see, it’s easy for your network to expand exponentially!
Because core networks typically center around friends, family, and your “inner” circle, relationships in these networks tend to cluster together. In other words, members of your core network may share many of the same connections. Business networks tend to focus more on a specific business, industry, or professional association. These networks are less clustered than family networks and have fewer intersecting connections. As a result, it’s important to constantly expand and diversify your network base outward. Salespeople, trade show and convention contacts, business acquaintances, professional association members, peers you interact with at other companies, vendor relationships, and so forth should all be included as a part of your network.
Although it’s already been discussed, don’t overlook professional associations and civic organizations as you build your network. Professional organizations can be of great benefit to IT professionals. Take the time to attend meetings and get to know the other members. Look for opportunities to volunteer, serve on committees, lead activities, or even speak at association functions. Such activities establish your leadership, and if speaking is involved, demonstrate your expertise in a field or area. (For more information on working with professional associations and their benefits, see “Working with Professional Associations and Societies.”)