Professional Networking: The Best Safety Net for Your Career
Networking is as essential to career health as fruits and vegetables are to physical health, so we consulted with an adult education expert to gain some tips on how to build a professional network and why you should start today.
Some people love it. Some people hate it. Regardless of which side you are on, most people agree that networking is a necessity in the professional world.
According to Debra Zabloudil, president and CEO of The Learning Studio and featured speaker at IFT’s Careers InFocus virtual event, it is critical for the health and wellness of your career to build a network of people who know you and can speak to your strengths and where you can add value to an organization. The best-networked people, she says, are the most successful because they have surrounded themselves with people who believe in them and want to see them succeed.
Building a Professional Network
There are numerous reasons people choose to build a professional network. The first thing most people think about is creating a trusted group to turn to when looking for a new job opportunity or seeking professional advice. While that is an advantage, your professional network can and should be so much more than that. Among the other benefits of building and maintaining a network are:
- Connecting with people you can learn from
- Sparking creativity or innovative ideas
- Elevating your visibility within your industry
- Allowing you to share your ideas and help others in your circle
- Creating strong friendships/relationships within the industry you work
- Increases self-awareness, an important element of emotional intelligence
If networking isn’t your forte, one of the best ways to start is to nurture the relationships you already have. Stay in touch in meaningful ways with people who have crossed your professional path. It could be someone you went to college with, someone you worked directly with, someone on another team, someone you met at a conference, a vendor, or a friend of a friend. You never know when your paths are going to cross again, so maintaining positive relationships with those you meet can come in handy down the road.
It is also important to figure out where to find the people you want to network with. LinkedIn is the world's largest professional network with more than 700 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, but that’s not the only option. Depending on your role, it may be more important to build a local or regional network versus a national or international. Once you figure that out, you will be able to narrow down your options. For example, IFT provides numerous networking opportunities within its regional sections and topical divisions, as well as larger venues like the IFT Annual Event and Food Expo and IFT Connect online community.
While you may be tempted to add every person you’ve ever met to your professional network just in case you may need them, that’s not necessarily advised. Zabloudil says it is important to strategize about what types of people you want to have in your network and why. Be purposeful about which relationships you hold on to and nurture. Quality is just as important as quantity.
Professional networking is also a game of give and take. Zabloudil says when you come across a piece of information, think about people in your sphere that might find it valuable, and share what you can liberally. The more you give to others, she says, the more you will receive in return.
The Shift from In-Person to Virtual Networking
Although the days of shaking hands and attending happy hours at face-to-face events are currently in a holding pattern, Zabloudil says there are a lot of commonalities between in-person and virtual networking, but it does take discipline and effort. Her top tips are:
- Set aside time every week for professional networking. Even if you can only spare a small amount of time each week, it’s beneficial and better than not networking at all.
- Do it before you need to. If you don’t start building your network until you need a new job, you’re too late. It’s the care and nurturing of relationships when things are going well that will serve you best when you are ready or in need of a change.
- Diversify your network. If everyone if your network thinks exactly like you, there will be little for you to gain and your growth will be limited. Instead, surround yourself with people who challenge you to think differently and try new ways of doing things. The perspectives you will gain from these types of individuals will be invaluable.
What lies ahead for professionals working in the science of food?
For more tips, join us for the IFT Careers InFocus virtual event on October 20. Or, register for on-demand access to hear from Zabloudil, as well as featured sessions on the future of work, diversity and pay inequity in the workplace, work after retirement and more.
About Debra Zabloudil, CAE, FACHE, President & CEO, The Learning Studio
Debra Zabloudil is an industry leader in speaking, training, facilitating and “all things adults education.” Debra founded The Learning Studio in 2004, after realizing a need in the market for high-quality adult education to help professionals flourish. Prior to launching TLS, Debra served in many senior staff positions with a variety of organizations, including the Association Forum of Chicagoland, The Young Presidents’ Organization, The Joint Commission, and the American College of Healthcare Executives. She has consulted with world-class companies and associations throughout her career such as Vistage, the National Association of Realtors, DDB Advertising, the International Avaya Users Group, and more.