Build your network before you need it
By Alan Carty
Imagine this scenario: An Engineer starts working in an office with a dozen or so other people that he will be interacting with on projects. He knows he will eventually have to share data with his coworkers. He decides to wait until the first day that he actually needs a file from someone. Then he leaves work, shops for a network interface card and some Ethernet cable, returns to the office, and connects his computer to the company network so he can access the file he needs to do his job.
I hope you all see how absurd that scenario is, and how unlikely you or anyone you know would do this. Yet, in the past few months, I have been contacted by several people who are finding themselves out of a job and are beginning the process of networking to find their next position. A few of these people have contacted me through LinkedIn. When I see their profile, it shows only one or two connections. This means they just began using this highly effective professional networking tool.
This second situation is actually a much bigger mistake than the company networking issue. In the first scenario, the person can easily connect to the network within a few hours and be able to access his coworkers' files. The lack of preparation resulted in just a few hours of lost productivity.
The process of building a professional network, though, is not completed in a few hours, or even a few weeks. This lack of preparation could result in months of unemployment, which could have been dramatically reduced by establishing a solid professional network long before it is needed to find a job.
Before sites like LinkedIn, sales people were most likely the only professionals who built and used a professional network. This is because such a network is crucial in doing their jobs well. But now that the Internet and social/professional networking sites exist, everyone should be building and expanding their contacts on a regular basis.
I know some of you are thinking, "Like I have time for that."
Most of us today have very little free time on our hands; however, building a solid network in a short amount of time can be done by following these simple steps:
- Create a profile on www.Linkedin.com. This can be done in four clicks by uploading your existing resume. (http://learn.linkedin.com/2009/06/create-a-complete-profile-in-minutes/)
- Use the webmail import feature to see all the people in LinkedIn you already know. This service matches e-mail addresses in your Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, AOL, or other online address books.
- Upload contacts from Outlook or other contact management programs.
- Immediately request connections with people in your list of colleagues and classmates. These are people who you currently work with or who were in college during the years you attended, and are on LinkedIn.
- Set a recurring reminder in Outlook, or whatever you use for scheduling, for a time in the week that is typically fairly slow. I chose Friday afternoon. The reminder just tells me to search for additional people to add to my connections. I spend no more than 10-20 minutes on this. If I feel I have already been active enough during a given week, I will just ignore the reminder.
I personally limped along on LinkedIn with a very small number of connections until I implemented step 5. Within six months, my connections increased from a few dozen to over 300. I am currently at over 500 and continue to add new connections every week. Because I am able to contact people within three degrees of separation, my current connections link me to over 4.7 million professionals.
LinkedIn is obviously not the only professional networking site, but I feel it is the best at this time. The site currently has over 50 million members worldwide, with a new member added about every second. Regardless of whether you use this or another resource, the time to start is now. If you have started the process, but have not really made much progress in adding connections, get it on your weekly calendar to spend just a few minutes searching for people you know and connect with them. You will be surprised at what a little regular activity will do. (http://www.linkedin.com/in/alancarty: I accept all connection requests from Automation professionals.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan Carty is the president and founder of Automationtechies.com, a recruiting and staffing company, and www.Automation.com, an online magazine for the Automation and Controls industry. Automationtechies specializes in placing engineers, managers and sales professionals into positions involving factory automation and process control. To learn more about Automationtechies, visit www.automationtechies.com or call 952-563-5447.