You won’t find any “official” methods from any business course or motivation book in this post. I’ve actually never read that sort of material. This is purely what has worked for me in 20 years of working in my current field (a combination of law enforcement and psychology).
A professional network is just that- a web of contacts that you make and the contacts of those people and so on (think LinkedIn with less random people trying to connect with you). Let me give you an example of how past networking helped me recently.
My supervisor and I are considering writing an article tackling a subject that deals with ethics in our specific line of work and thought it best to have an ethics or legal expert co-author the article. My boss has been in our organization for decades and I am the newbie. However, within an hour I had sent a text message to two separate former mentors of mine; one retired from federal law-enforcement and one still active in the psychology research field. Both were able to give me a very strong lead as well as sound advice for the project by the end of the day.
There are many benefits to this specific example. First, these are individuals that I feel comfortable enough sending a text message to, rather than a formal email. Clearly, that speaks to the long-term and casual relationships that have been developed over many years. Also, I know these are people who are invested in my success that parallels many of their own interests, so they were eager to reply. And then, of course, I knew that the content of their suggestions was top notch.
So with whom do you plant these seeds? Easy. Everyone.
Okay, well, not really. You will want to narrow down who has the potential to be useful one day and that can be a large pool of people if you are early in your career or are not sure what you yet want to do exactly. The fruitful relationships that grow from these seeds could end up being future mentors, but it could also be as simple as an occasional brain to pick.
Schoolmates or fellow trainees are good people with whom to start. These relationships develop naturally due to the innate common ground. Working in close proximity to each other and going through the same struggles builds a bond and an emotional intimacy. Usually, these relationships are bonded by social outlets and, in turn, social media connections. Even if you aren’t besties with everyone, you can keep in the loop enough to know what they are doing careerwise. This may come in handy as your cohort spreads out and settle down in jobs all over the state, country, or world.
Co-workers won’t always be your coworkers. People promote, people move on, heck hopefully you move on one day! Since you will want to take advantage of these relationships beyond your time working together, make sure you always have at least a current email address for anyone with whom you want to keep in contact. Don’t just look to supervisors to keep good relationships with. I can’t tell you how many times I have reached out to former interns to help me in my private practice or to an assistant who used to work at a specific clinic for which I need referrals.
Trainings and conferences are gold mines for making connections. Speakers are ready and willing to hand out their cards or they usually have their contact info at the end of their slide presentations. Usually, there are mixers set up for the literal purpose of growing networks. Take advantage!
One may think that you need to be an overly gregarious individual to be a successful networker. Not true. I have consistently had a small core group of close friends and don’t taut myself as a particularly social person on a daily basis. However, I have developed the skill to be able to talk to anyone (if I want to). If you keep in mind these simple steps, it will be much easier to get the seed and water it later.
1. Introduce yourself by name & place of work or school.
2. State your interests.
3. Ask if you may contact that person at a later date.
It may go something like this:
“Hi. I am Shiloh and I am a graduate student at Alliant University in Los Angeles. I am interested in seeking a position after graduation in the field of forensic psychology. May I contact you at a later date to talk about your experiences working at the Federal prison?”
“Hi. I am Dr. C. I am considering putting together a case presentation that would require me to get permission from a former client who is now in prison. May I contact you at a later date to ask how you went about that process with the case you presented?”
1. Send a follow email; be formal, thank them for their time or make that appointment for the info you requested.
2. Make periodic connections; tell them about successes or jobs you landed because of their input or help.
3. Reach out for occasional face to face time with each other; ask when they will be in town so you can take them to lunch, find out what speaking presentations they have coming up, etc.
Your unique field of work is a smaller world than you may realize. If you make the conscious effort to keep connections alive throughout your studies and career, you will be amazed at the relationships that you can call on at any given time.
So what’s your superpower?
Read my other posts on career advice and tips here.