Building and sustaining professional relationships – a professional network – is one of the most important elements of any career.
Personally, I have been fortunate to have worked with and for some of the best and brightest people in the Department of Defense, mostly in public affairs, but other organizations as well. Cultivating and sustaining professional relationships can be done through networking events, social media, and email. Many of the people in my professional network have also become personal friends, but that’s not always the case.
Once you’ve reached a level in your work experience where you are no longer just chasing jobs, but creating a career, it’s only logical to nurture and expand your professional network to include people you’d like to work with in the future and look for ways your professional network can facilitate introductions.
There are many reasons to create and nurture professional relationships and build a network of present and former colleagues and industry associates. Here are a few:
One of the best ways to get to know a person is to work with them. How they treat people, what skills they have, how they work with others on a project are all indicators of a person’s strengths and weaknesses. Having people who have worked with you on a project, especially one that lasts a year or more, builds your professional reputation and can provide excellent references for the future.
Government contracting is a surprisingly small community. Your professional reputation will proceed you. It can help you get your next job, or prevent you from getting your foot in the door or pursuing that dream opportunity.
Part of a professional network should always include mentors – those people you turn to when you need advice or help. Reaching out to people in your network, and having people who reach out to you, is one of the most valuable aspects of the network. It’s also one of the best reasons to keep in touch and make an effort to stay connected with intelligent, skilled colleagues.
A strong professional network will, without a doubt, yield job offers or potential prospects for jobs. I have relied on my network for years to hear about openings and even get recommendations and referrals for positions. The hidden job market is very real, and not every great job will be listed. Your career network can help you find and identify those hidden job opportunities, and refer you to positions that are an ideal fit for you.
Having former co-workers, supervisors, and colleagues to vouch for you during a clearance investigation or re-investigation will be an immense help and possibly speed things up.
PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS or ASSOCIATIONS
Having pride and respect for the work you do is a major motivation for creating and keeping a professional network. Pride in the field you work in, and respect for your peers and colleagues in that profession is shown by being a part of the network and maintaining those relationships. There are often associations and groups for certain professionals, and it’s always a good idea to join.
DON’T FORGET RECRUITERS
A professional network should include recruiters and hiring managers who will keep you in mind as jobs and contracts come up. Considering how many people a good recruiter will come in contact with in a year, it’s advantageous to stay connected with recruiters and hiring managers so they will reach out to you when there are new job prospects.
If you haven’t set up your professional network, it’s not too late to start. But don’t delay, because a network is vital to success and provide value and meaning to your career.