Maintaining a professional network is a lot of work. It takes discipline to stay in touch with everyone you have met over a career of decades. It is too easy to let friends and colleagues slip into the background. Further more, when you need them, it is not the best time to be building relationships.
I found this out the hard way a few years ago. I had been working for a small software company for eleven years, head down and enjoying my job. I had friends at work, but nowhere else. Like so many others, I didn’t see a need to look beyond my company. Then the layoff happened.
The saddest part was, as a manager, I knew the layoff was coming for over three months. I also knew I was on the list. However, against all the advice I received, I didn’t do anything about it. Well, I did do one thing that perhaps saved my career. I fought for and received career transition benefits for those of us who were leaving the company. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was that benefit that saved me.
After a couple of months searching for a job the old fashioned way – reading help wanted ads in the newspaper – I started facing reality. I didn’t have a network on which I could call for help. I had to build one from the ground up. And fast.
I was lucky to have found a terrific job coach, Paulette. She sat me down and taught me how to build a professional network, how to meet people and ask them for their friends. Believe me, it was hard work. And scary! It is a lot harder to keep the sound of desperation out of your voice when you are truly desperate!
I started with my closest friends, because I knew they wouldn’t say ‘no’ to helping me. I then followed up with their friends. Slowly, over the course of three months, I built the network I should have been building all along. After 125+ networking interviews, I was offered a job that was created for me and for which I was the only applicant.
Whew! I was employed again. And I had a professional network all over the city. These were people whom were kind enough to let me into their offices, talk with me and open their Rolodexes to help me. I met people in different industries, government offices, universities, large global companies, small one-man shops and everything in between. It was fun! After I got over the initial fear of meeting people, I grew to enjoy it. The best part was when I could put people who I had met in touch with others who could help them with their problems.
Along the way, I kept hearing the same comment from many of the people I met: “I know I need to do what you’re doing. I just don’t.” I know how they felt. I had been in that place before I was laid off. And, I am sad to say, I fell back into that mode after I landed a job. I let large parts of my network atrophy into non-existence. All that work meeting people and I didn’t keep in touch. Shame on me.
I’m fixing that now. I am reaching back to those friends from years ago. I am also using my recent move to a new city as an opportunity to reach forward to new friends. I have a good job today. I don’t “need” a network right now. However, it is the perfect time to be building one while the sun is shining, just in case it ever clouds over.
What are you doing to build and maintain a professional network? Start today! Make a lunch or coffee meeting with a friend. Find out about what they are doing and who they think you should meet. Over the next few posts, I am going to share tips and ideas for building and maintaining a network. Share your experiences!
Picture credit: Forescene.com