Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Back to School, Back to Work: Rebuilding Your Professional Network

If you’ve been away from the professional world, it’s time to rebuild the network. Take heart, even those working for a paycheck ignore this supremely important aspect of career development. The upside is that you have expanded your network through all of your community and parent-related activities, and these new contacts can be part of your professional world.

There are two parts to rebuilding your professional network: online and offline.

In the online world, nothing beats LinkedIn. Although some equate it to “Facebook for work,” there’s really much more to it. We recommend you use LinkedIn by:

  • Build out your professional profile based on your resurrected resume. Use the online template to get recommendations from prior colleagues and managers. Remember the job descriptions you reviewed for job families on your target list? Make sure the keywords from those job descriptions are on your LinkedIn profile, because that’s how recruiters are going to find you.
  • Reconnect with EVERYONE you’ve ever worked with. LinkedIn practically does this for you by matching up employment dates to other members with the same organizations and dates of employment, all you have to do is Link up. Remember the bad old days when switching internet service providers meant switching email accounts? It was very easy to lose track of former colleagues, this process makes it easy. With a wide employment gap you’re much more likely to be hired by someone you know, who knows your work and results, than applying into the black hole of a career site.
  • Join industry and job family-related groups. These are free and a great way for you to network with peers online. Learn about industry-specific job fairs, new policy and regulations in your field and learn about job openings from group members. There’s a fee for employers to post a job opening on LinkedIn, but free for group members within the group setting (under Discussions), so many post there.

You can use all sorts of online resources to rekindle your professional network, and even expand it further, but it’s the online portion that’s going to get you your next role. Nothing beats the face-to-face interaction and follow-up of an online meeting to build an actual relationship. And that’s what the network is all about.

· Coffee: I’m a big fan of the, “can I take you to coffee?” as the opening salvo to building a professional relationship. 20 minutes, $5, and everybody loves the opportunity to talk about themselves over a mocha-whatever. If you’ve been following this process step-by-step, you’re in the process of networking yourself into your target roles and organizations, you’ve connected online, and now you’re meeting in person. Do your research (on your coffee date via LinkedIn, on the company and industry with various resources) and ask very specific questions. Pick up the tab, send an email thank you that day, and send a written thank you note. In an online world, meeting in person and sending paper through the snail mail sets you apart in a very crowded hiring market.

· Follow Up: Again, this is the whole key to rebuilding the professional network and the step most job-seekers overlook. Whether you’re meeting someone at a networking event or over coffee, send an email right away and a written thank you in the mail. I cannot overstate this. Busy people are taking time out of their day to help you, express sincere gratitude. Hopefully in your relationship-building meeting you learned something about the other person, pay a favor or introduction forward to build what we call “good networking karma.” If your coffee date is late because there was a plumbing emergency at home, email over a great recommendation from the plumber you’ve used. If he or she mentions that they’re really struggling with Search Engine Optimization, forward an article you’ve recently read on the topic.

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