In a previous life, I spent my days working for a large health care organization based here in Minneapolis.
I had taken the job as a “step back”. As a way to get a better handle on my career, and survive those early years with my kids (young parents—you’ll relate).
But, one thing I found fascinating about this health care company and its marketing/communications function was this: Most people did seem to see any reason to network beyond its four walls.
No one said that, in those certain terms. But, they didn’t have to. Their actions spoke much louder than words.
Very few people joined and participated in professional associations like PRSA and AMA.
Very few people had semi-regular coffee meet-ups with people outside our industry.
In fact, the only time I really saw people networking and grabbing coffee when was layoffs were imminent and people were fighting for their jobs.
I’ll give you another example locally: Target.
If you work in the Twin Cities, chances are you know someone who works at Target.
But, when was the last time you had a networking coffee with anyone from Target?
When was the last time you saw someone from Target at an industry event?
I’m not saying it never happens. All I’m saying is you don’t see as many people from Target attending industry events as you do from other organizations in town (they do most of their networking WITHIN Target).
It’s a common issue for folks at large corporations: They fail to network outside the four walls of their organization.
Lots of reasons.
1 – I have my “dream job” (or some form of it). Why do I even need to network?
2 – I’m too busy. I don’t have time to network.
3 – I know enough people—I don’t need to expand my network.
To those people, I would say: See you in the unemployment line (OK, I’m being dramatic–I couldn’t help myself).
Networking is the lifeblood of any successful PR and marketing professional. Who you know is every bit as important (and I would argue more so, in many cases) than what you know.
And it’s not all about jobs either. Networking is a critical component of professional development, too. You know, that whole “improving yourself” thing.
In fact, I would argue networking outside your organization’s four walls could be seen as a core requirement for all employees as a professional development strategy.
Think about the benefits to the organization:
1: More new ideas from outside the organizations. So many orgs suffer from a prevalent “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality. Networking with others gives you insight into how other industries and companies address common marketing challenges.
2: More access to talent. What’s the first thing any corporate team does when a new job comes open on its team? They ask “Who do we know that might be a fit?” Everyone pings their networks to see if they have a friend or colleague that might be interested. Wouldn’t it be helpful if you had a few people on your team that had expansive networks, in this case?
3: More access to vendors. See #2 above–except substitute “talent” for “vendors.” Exact same situation. Before you start interviewing agencies, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a few people weigh in on those agencies based on personal experience and their networks’ personal experiences?
Now, the jobs piece, which is more confounding to be honest.
Why people refuse (or ignore) to network outside the four walls of their company has always seemed a bit odd to me.
Here’s how I think about this:
When I worked on the corporate side, I took every job knowing full well we operate in an “at will” employment environment. That means: A company can hire and fire me whenever they like (essentially). And, I can leave whenever I want.
I knew that people (good people) get fired all the time. Sometimes through layoffs. Sometimes through reorgs. Sometimes by way of performance.
So, if that’s the case, I wanted to give myself the best chance to survive those (impending) layoffs (and if you think it’s weird I use “impending” go ask your friends how many of them have been laid off once in their careers. You’ll see a bunch of hands go up).
The best way to make sure you are inherently employable isn’t merely to “do a great job at work” (although that certainly is a component of it). It’s also means you have to have a solid, extended network.
Because, if you get laid off, what’s the first thing you’re doing? Calling on your network for help.
So, doesn’t it make sense to ensure you have a large network that is motivated to help you when you need that help?
This is exactly why when I was working on the corporate side, I made the extra effort to build and nurture my network. That meant organizing coffees before work. Attending industry events. Reaching out to folks on LinkedIn and Twitter.
All that paid off in a big way when I was looking for my next opportunity. I asked people in my network questions about starting a solo business. Asked others about social/digital opportunities in the local market. Asked yet others for help with connections.
And, for the most part, they all said “yes” and helped. Why? Because I had put in the time on the front end through coffees, industry events and other communications.
Yeah, networking is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time.
But you know what? It may also end up saving your career. Or, making it more lucrative. Or, extending it by 5-10 years.
Go forth people. Network. You’ll thank me later.