It’s what you know, and who you know.
In the work world, the personal and professional connections you make with other people can make a huge difference in your success in accomplishing the goals of your current job and perhaps finding a better career at later stage.
While professional skills are important, and while the gift of gab is no substitute for the achievement of competence, there is quite a bit to be said for people skills. The ability to make a positive impression, to convince and influence others, is a key to success in many pursuits. Often, personality and people skills can make the difference when two equally qualified, educated and experienced people are seeking the same goal.
Some folks are born with the gift of fitting in and getting along with others. For the rest of us, it’s something that we have to work at. But developing your social skills and developing a network of colleagues, contacts and clients you can turn to for advice, business leads and tips and employment options is definitely a worthwhile investment of your time and effort.
If you’re not the most gregarious person in the world, start out with baby steps. Get in contact with old friends and acquaintances and make a regular habit of giving them the occasional call. From there, start asking them who they know, and get in touch with those people.
It’s important to stay professional in your conduct with others, but don’t be afraid to get personal, if appropriate. Remember birthdays, inquire about the health and well being of your contacts family, congratulate folks on achievements, etc.
In order to get something out of your social network, you have to put something into it. Do favors for people if you can. This can be anything including phoning in a useful tip to someone you know, writing a recommendation, etc. People are more likely to want you in their network and to want to do things for you if they know that you can do something for them.
Joining professional and trade associations is a great way to build a social network. It’s easy to talk to folks in a trade organization because you already know that you have at least one similar interest with them. These groups can also be a great way to swap trade secrets, find out what’s going on at other companies and make a positive impression on folks who you might need a job or a favor from one day.
Online social networks such as MySpace and Facebook can be great for developing friendships and business relationships. They provide an informal and convenient setting where you, your friends and colleagues can talk shop or talk life.
One caveat: Think twice before you post. Online social networks have been job killers for some folks who posted risque material or political rants. Remember that picture of you with the lampshade over your head that you posted won’t just be seen by the folks you want to see it, but also some folks you might not want to see it, like your boss.
As you can see, a social network can be a powerful tool in helping you get ahead in business and life. The need for networks has become painfully apparent in this tight economic environment, where you need every advantage you can get just to survive. Nurture your network with time and attention and it’ll bear fruit that may sustain you in lean times.