the next generation
It is doing what your mother told you NOT to do! It is meeting new people, talking with them and building new relationships. It is meeting like-minded people, and sharing experiences, thoughts, theories, solutions, and insights. It is helping each other personally and professionally. It is Networking! Before we can discuss “The Next Generation” of networking, we must first understand the basics.
In its simplest form, networking is talking with people. Think for a moment what happens when you meet someone for the first time in a business environment. You introduce yourself and share the same basic information that you do with each new person you meet. These tidbits of information may include where you work, your position in the company, what industry you work in, the company's size and your current challenges, to name a few. With slight variation, you probably discuss the same things with every person you meet along the way. What have you gained from your past networking experiences?
People network for a variety of reasons. When I first found myself actively networking, it was to find a job after being a stay-at-home mother for several years. I had applied for countless positions, to no avail. I was constantly changing my approach to my job search, including going back to school for a master's degree and taking a contract position as a lab technician working with engineers. I was offered the opportunity to interview for this contract position by a former colleague with whom I kept in contact during my stay-at-home years. Had I not maintained that relationship, I would not have even known the position existed.
I had not focused my job search on a particular type of position, but rather on information technology positions in general. When I took a step back and looked at what type of position I had enjoyed the most from my pre-stay-at-home career, I realized being a project manager was where I needed to focus my efforts. I then joined Project Management Institute (PMI) and the PMI Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter. After attending a handful of meetings, I decided I needed to get involved, so I ran for an office on the Board of Directors.
Getting involved in the Bluegrass Chapter opened the doors to my first real experiences with networking. My reason was a selfish one: getting a job. After four years of working as a contracted lab technician, I achieved fulltime employee status with the contracting company by getting to know coworkers and building my reputation. I had spent the previous four years marketing myself through networking. If not for networking, I would not have obtained this new position. It was not a project management position, but it was in information technology. I worked in this position for a little over a year when I realized the opportunities I was looking for were not likely to become available at this company.
The realization did not happen overnight. It crept up on me and reared itself as unrest. In October 2009, I attended the PMI® North America Leadership Institute Meeting (NA LIM) in Orlando, Florida, USA. The keynote speaker was Dr. Gary Bradt, author of The Ring in the Rubble. During his speech, Dr. Bradt indicated there are three types of change. The first type of change is that which is forced upon us and we struggle to accept, such as a layoff. The second type is one that is forced upon us but we can see the reasons and readily accept them, such as a corporate restructuring. The third kind of change is one where we realize that standing still is no longer good enough! This last type of change resonated with me so much so that it was as if all the lights had suddenly come on at the football field in the dark of night. This was my call to action.
I walked out of that conference room and right up to a gentleman that I had met a year earlier at the PMI NA LIM and global congress in Denver, Colorado, USA, told him what I wanted to do with my career and asked him to mentor me. He reflected on his past mentoring experiences for a few seconds and said, “Yes.” I had just developed a mentoring relationship with someone that I had met through networking the year before.
Networking has now benefitted me in several ways. I have used it to learn about opportunities and obtain a temporary position, and subsequently, a full-time position at the company where I was contracting, to market myself and to obtain a mentor to facilitate personal growth. These were all very selfish motives for networking, but something interesting and unexpected had started happening along the way. As I was working on my journey to my ideal position, I was offering my experiences to other people, and other people were beginning to seek me out for ideas for their own job searches. I remember the day it hit me that people were looking to me for guidance. It was an incredibly rewarding feeling and much more valuable than all the help I had received from others.
Why is Networking Difficult?
Networking may just be talking with people but that does not make it easy. It requires going outside many people's comfort zones. I am a strong extrovert, so meeting new people is pretty easy for me but imagine the challenge for an introvert. By the time I realized that my full-time job did not have the opportunities available that I was looking for, I had developed solid networking skills, which helped me take the next step. I decided that to meet my ultimate career goals, I needed to be in a larger metropolitan area.
To accommodate my family's needs, I decided to look for a position in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, while still working in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. My first step was to find networking opportunities in Cincinnati, so I joined the local PMI Chapter, PMI Southwest Ohio. I checked the Chapter calendar for upcoming events. I started attending monthly chapter meetings, took their Project Management Professional (PMP)® class, and participated in the chapter career fair. I did all this while still working in Lexington.
I soon began meeting people in the Cincinnati area in my career of choice. With each chapter meeting I attended, I sat at a table with people I didn't know, which allowed me to meet six to seven new people every time. This is a great approach for an introvert. I found that if I did not start the conversation, someone else would. Had I been the introvert at the table, the others would have started conversations with me and drawn me out. It also helped that I knew what my personal goals were and could speak to them. This helped drive the conversation in directions that were of interest to me or where I could provide benefit to others.
Although I used PMI as my source of networking opportunities, there are many others. Consider other professional organizations that are of interest to you. Networking opportunities also exist at your place of worship, your child's extra-curricular activities, book clubs, charitable events, and so forth. Often, consulting firms will host specific “networking” events. It is a great opportunity for you to meet new people. The place that is most often overlooked is your current place of employment. Networking during lunch and before and after meetings can be a great way to increase your network. Consider sitting with someone new during lunch at least once a week. This will enable you to meet people with different experiences and new approaches to solving issues within your own company. It can also help you gain insight into your company's politics.
How Do You Network?
Networking entails taking risks. Yes, risks. To learn from and gain new perspectives from people you network with, you have to be willing to share your experiences and weaknesses. Not everyone finds it easy to admit to a complete stranger that they do not know how to handle a situation at work or that they have been laid off from their last job. In order to grow in our skills and careers, we have to take these chances and who better to learn from than our colleagues?
Be prepared. Always bring your business cards. No exceptions. When networking, it is critical to follow up with people afterward. Make notes on the backs of cards you receive to help you remember what your connection was with that person. Later, send an email to that person reiterating your appreciation for any help he or she provided you with or asking to connect again, maybe for lunch or a phone call. Remember to keep any promises you made to provide additional information.
If you are on LinkedIn, connect with them. If you are not on LinkedIn, consider joining. It is a great way to maintain your contacts and keep in touch. It also allows you to connect other people to each other when they need help. I use LinkedIn to periodically reconnect with someone I was especially impressed with or who helped me. I also post openings for my employer and ask for ideas from others via LinkedIn.
Offer to help other people. Helping others can take on many forms, such as offering an idea on how to solve an issue at work or connecting them with someone else you know who may be able to offer help. The more you offer to help others, the more you receive in return. As I mentioned earlier, knowing that I am considered a valuable resource to others is rewarding and it encourages me to offer even more help.
When networking and helping others, be sure to promote yourself. Talk about your accomplishments and experiences. It is important to establish these types of relationships on an on-going basis. You may be using networking as a means of adding value to your current job today, but tomorrow you may be using it to find a new job. If you wait until you need a job to begin networking, it is too late. When I made the decision to move to Cincinnati, it was late October and I was fortunately still employed. It took until March to make the connection that ultimately became the job I accepted and June before my first day of work. That was eight months from start to finish of my job search. Had I not been employed during that time, it could have been devastating. Additionally, developing my network while I was still employed allowed me to be picky in the job I accepted. Had I been unemployed, I may have felt obligated to take the first position I was offered just to have a paycheck.
The Next Generation
So what is the Next Generation? It is how you identify and achieve your dreams. Everything we have discussed in “the basics” has been about meeting goals like finding a job or solving a problem at work. Neither of these specifically addresses achieving our dreams. There is a fundamental difference between dreams and goals. Dreams are what are in our heart, and goals are what we work toward to achieve them. Do you know what your dreams are? When I first started working with my mentor, he told me I needed a dream manager. I had no idea what he was referring to at the time but learned quickly.
I was encouraged to read The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly. The book is a parable about a company with a high turnover rate. The company begins a program with its employees targeted to helping employees achieve their dreams. This encouragement and support from the company create a sense of engagement for the employees and reduces the company's turnover rate. It is about leadership. It is also about personal development.
My mentor had me read The Dream Manager and develop my list of dreams. In the book, Kelly suggests getting a notebook and putting one of twelve categories on each page (Kelly, 2007, p. 124). The twelve categories include:
Develop a list of one hundred dreams spread across the twelve categories. Then prioritize each category and the top three across all the categories. Now, develop a plan to achieve these dreams. As you achieve a dream, draw a line through it and date it. Then add another dream to any category, always maintaining a list of one hundred.
Do not let the idea of one hundred dreams scare you away. It took me a couple of weeks to get to one hundred. At the coaching of my mentor, I reread the list every day until I realized that the list I had created was not good enough. I decided that my dreams were not lofty and challenging enough. They were at a level that my life situations had forced me to go to survive. I rewrote my dreams. I now have a list of dreams that challenge me and truly represent what I want to achieve in my life.
What Does This Mean For Networking?
Now that you know what your dreams are, share them. I have always wanted to write and publish a book, but I used to be afraid to tell anyone. I was afraid that if I told everyone and did not do it, I would be viewed as a failure. Now, I realize that by telling people about my dreams, I am more likely to achieve them. By talking about your dreams, it keeps them in the forefront of your mind. I have since developed the name for the book I want to write and have an idea of what will be included. I am only steps away from beginning to write it.
Ask others about their dreams. This is a great conversation starter. Talking about your dreams addresses the longer term, not the short term. By discussing our dreams, we may find others with similar dreams. Meeting people with similar dreams provides an opportunity to develop a support network as we work to achieve our dreams.
Discussing our dreams develops a positive and proactive attitude. It is a change in focus that positions us to look into the future and unlocks opportunities that we might not otherwise uncover. I have a dream of becoming a motivational speaker and traveling the world in my pseudo retirement. By talking about my dream when I meet new people, I have opened up doors to speaking engagements. I never would have believed it could be that easy to get started. That is not to say achieving my ultimate dream is not a lot of work.
I have found that talking about our dreams during networking opportunities is more fun and interesting. People tend to carry the conversation longer and actively introduce people to others that have similar dreams. What are your dreams?
Bradt, G. (2007). The ring in the rubble. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Kelly, M. (2007). The dream manager. New York, NY: Beacon Publishing.
© 2012, Connie L. Fryman, MSCIS, PMP, CSM
Originally published as part of the 2012 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Vancouver, Canada