Save the Whales was founded 1977 to preserve endangered species of whales.
With tongue someplace in cheek, preserving your career network may not be far behind. Act now or your career network too will be endangered
Why is this important?
Because your career network is probably the most important asset you have today for getting advice and help on your current job, as well as your next job. And moving forward your network will increase, not decrease in importance to you because while smarts and abilities count, it’s access via your network that helps you display them.
Here’s what a career network is not .
It’s not all the people who follow you on Twitter, have logged into your MySpace page, or have connected with you on LinkedIn. It’s also not the vendors who send you holiday greeting cards, or have met you once at an alumni event. Last, it’s not a web site .
What makes a career network is the set of people in the scope of your work and life who you know, have a personal connection, and have worked with you, or to whom you provided advice, or from whom you’ve gotten advice. They could be former supervisors, colleagues, clients, or vendors. They are people with whom you have some degree of engagement.
Most of all, people in your career network are folks who will take your call, meet with you if you need them to, offer advice, and generally follow-through. They may be people you have helped and will gladly help you, and they may be people who have helped you before and are glad to help you again.
What’s the confusion?
In our recently social networking obsessed world the lines between who’s a real member of your career network and someone who you know casually via LinkedIn, Plaxo, or Facebook is getting really blurry. Steven Levy of Newsweek is spot on when talking about the distinction between real friends and digital friends when he wrote “Maybe by now you’re getting the idea that a friend at Facebook or MySpace is not necessarily the same as a real friend, the kind who brings you chicken soup when you’re sick and posts multiple favorable reviews about your book on Amazon. In addition to 20 or 30 genuine BFFs [bona fide friends], you might have someone you met at a conference, the kid sitting behind you in Spanish class, someone who wants access to you as a customer or a guitar player in a local band with whom you will never exchange a word.”
The reason for the fuss regarding career networks is that you need to take care and nurture folks in that network in order for you to optimize your work career choices. Blurring the lines between whose really in your career network and who is not means you either end up keeping track, keeping engaged (even it’s it only the once a year e-mail to say hello, update any contact info, etc.) and otherwise available with more people than you should, or you drop the ball and under nurture people in your career network because you’ve got to many people to cover.
Here are three examples:
- Wendy Yanowitch and Richard Yanowitch are in my career network. While I have not been employed with either of them, Wendy and I work on a board of trustees together, and Richard and I serve on a separate board together. I will gladly take their call, set up time to talk, and make intros when I can. They’d do the same for me. How’d they get into my career network? We’ve worked together, enjoy working together, and have a sense of connection and engagement. They’re also smart, good people with similar values.
- Sari Crevin is not in my career network (though I’m sure she’s great), though she is a LinkedIn contact. She knows a friend of a friend and asked to connect. I should have hit “archive”. I hit “yes”. She has 500+ LinkedIn contacts and wouldn’t know me if I ran into her with the proverbia l Mack truck. I might know her if she hit me, but only because she’s one of around 10 of my LinkedIn contacts that I wonder why I added.
- John Rehm is a tweener. While we have never met in person, he’s from my alma mater, went to a similar grad program, and works at IDEO doing somewhat similar work, and is a LinkedIn contact. We’ve swapped messages, and I’ve picked his brain (long distance) on stuff. If I knew him better and met him I’d probably park him over in the career network side. For now he’s beyond the orbit of the real career network, but not in the outer planet orbits like Sari.
Short story. Protect and nurture your career contacts, and make sure you are clear who they are.