July 3, 2010

The Importance of Being Networked

By Andrew at 11:44 AM

Never have I seen more clearly how important it is to get connected with other professionals in my fields than this past school year.  Thanks to the contacts that God has placed in my life, I am currently working at Jellyfish Labs for a summer internship, and I am loving it!  In fact, without those contacts, I may not have had the opportunity for an internship this summer at all.

I wanted to talk briefly about the concept of building a “network" of professionals in a field.  It really bothers me to think about "making friends" for the mere purpose of favors, but that is not at all my intention, even when establishing contacts and making friendships with talented people.  Yes, it would be wonderful if opportunities would come from my friends rather than from people I did not know at all.  But more important to me than the possibility of getting an inside opportunity is the potential of building a group of trusted colleagues whom I can run ideas by.  It is similar to an experience I recently had with a professional, non-profit organization, whose meetings I had the honor of sitting in on.  This group met weekly for lunch as a gathering of friends and colleagues, but it was interesting to listen to the dinnertime conversation of professionals in totally different fields just discussing issues which affected them as people in general, regardless of their field.  But they also discussed business propositions that were on their minds, and the feedback they received from those outside their fields may perhaps be the most valuable insight they could ever hope to have received.

Since it is so important to build a professional network, I am convinced that tools such as LinkedIn are great for establishing relationships, communicating up front that the relational intention is for professional contact.  With a business context established right away, it is not nearly as difficult to maintain such a relationship in the professional arena, and it also leaves the door wide open for a more individual relationship through other venues.  Since the context of the relation is established right away, the potential opportunities for assistance and collaboration are mutually understood.

Another point to consider about networking is that it must be reciprocal.  If I, as someone else’s contact, would continuously take from our relationship, I would have failed in the endeavor of successfully networking with my colleagues.  We must make it a point to proactively assist others with our talents and our insight into opportunities, whether this comes in the form of recommendation letters or even job offers.

I am not saying that personal and professional relations need be totally separate.  On the contrary, I believe that all relations will end up crossing, and in fact, I believe that they should mingle together.  The above reflection is merely insight into honestly making professional contacts without taking advantage of the friendships involved.  When a need arises, favors will be asked.  However, the context of the asking is much more honest and co-beneficial if the context of the relationship is mutually understood beforehand.

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