Many years ago, I was working on contract doing technical writing in downtown Toronto. When the woman who hired me invited me to a meeting of her professional association, I went. To be polite. The next day she asked me what I thought of it. Being young, green and rather foolish, I answered: “Well, the speaker was pretty good, but I would rather stay home than go out for potato salad and cold cuts.”
Ever so wise, she looked me in the eye and countered: “Donna, you don’t go to these meetings for the bologna, you go for the networking.”
Her sage advice was lost on me at the time, although for some strange reason I can remember this conversation verbatim years later.
Up until that point, I had been hired for full-time jobs and contracts based mostly on luck. As well, I had benefited from networking, even though I would have referred to it as “who you know,” as in “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I actually viewed this as a little shady!
More than 20 years later, I have become an inveterate networker; it has been the single most important factor in the growth of my business.
Lately, I’ve met a few people who have been let go from long-running corporate jobs, and have to start from scratch to build a network that will lead them to a new opportunity. Truth be told, I feel sorry for anyone today who has no online presence and no in-person network. They’ll be banging their heads against the wall searching through job ads.
The message is clear: Start building your in-person network right now. Join a professional association; go to meetings and get involved. Create a profile on LinkedIn. Consider blogging or Twittering about a topic you’re passionate about. Not only will you learn immeasurably from the people you meet; you’ll also be building a powerful group of friends and colleagues who want to help you succeed.