When you are a student or a young worker, it is difficult to realize the importance of your professional network from a professional perspective. In our socio-educational system, the determining element in the preparatory classes, schools, internships, or jobs you were going to find was always, to very different degrees, merit.
Obviously, we may talk about the social reproduction phenomena caused by preparatory classes, the fact that university students are less well followed than their peers in private business schools, and the inequities that still exist in France. But, in theory, the Republic has given birth to an educational system that teaches us that we can only rise via hard labor for our professional network. As a result, we cram, revise, compose essays, hone our talents, and consume the appropriate quantity of energy in preparation for late nights of revision, successful competitions, and academic prizes.
Some professional circles reproduce these integration paths. To be recruited into a strategy consulting firm, for example, one must pass a battery of logic tests and exams. But in all cases – strategy consulting included – other elements come into play.
What is the purpose of a professional network?
When you start working, everything changes. Naturally, being good at one’s profession allows one to advance in their career by having the greatest amount of freedom in determining the path one will take. Your professional network, on the other hand, will not be determined by a stack of report cards, honors, scholarships, or academic prizes. Like in school, your professional chances will no longer be determined by a system of official rules and standards. Doors open as well when one makes oneself known, and these communication processes are not natural for each of us.
The goal is also to be able to help others, give advice, make business contacts, etc. Sometimes we even get to meet new people. The key is to be aware, early on, of the importance of your professional network. In the professional world, you can’t choose who you spend time with as much as you used to. And all those you meet more or less closely will be the spokespersons of your image to those you don’t know. Fortunately, you can turn your network into a strength.
How to make the most of your network?
The solution is not necessarily to become a big socialite, to run around to all the professional events to be seen, heard, and known everywhere you go. We won’t teach you here how to flatter, shake hands, wink, or generate compliments. But that’s what some people do when they want to build a “professional network“. Our recommendations are simpler, more naive perhaps, but it’s up to you to work with your own strengths:
your colleagues, clients, bosses, and other professional contacts would probably rather spend their days with their friends and families than with you. Yet, for the next forty years, you will spend more than half your days with them. Try to put aside petty resentments, animosities, and mockery. You don’t have to be a carebear either, but being nice will make working with you more enjoyable for everyone, including you, and that is important for your professional network;
Be good at your job
No need to explain why;
Let people know you’re good
If you don’t, no one else will.
Professional connections get stronger over time, so keep in touch with your contacts. Send an e-mail to a coworker in your professional network if you come across an article that you think they might enjoy. Let someone in your professional network know if you see an opportunity they might be able to bid on. You can stay in touch in a variety of ways, but you might want to use a professional networking site like LinkedIn. Online social networking is a great method to supplement real-world networking, but it’s not meant to take its place of it!
Networking should be a pleasurable professional experience. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of this chance to offer their services or beg for a favor. The best networking occurs when neither participant stands to earn anything immediately. In that manner, a professional network can develop over time, and business may be undertaken at some point in the future. It’s also a good idea to consider what you can provide to your network instead of what you can obtain from it. If you act sincere and invest in your professional network, you’ll find that you won’t even need to ask for aid – they’ll provide it when they notice you’re in need.
Making your professional network strong is not just a matter of reputation. The prerequisite is to make your network live: don’t hesitate to identify what brings you closer to others (school, work, sports, whatever), and create links with others. This soft power will be useful in your career and will enrich it through the encounters it will make possible.