Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Career changes, career transitions 10: business-oriented social networking as a career development tool set

This is my tenth posting to a series on careers, career development and career transitions, and on looking at work and the work experience from a wider perspective than that of the here and now job or job search (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 285-293 for Parts 1-9.)

So far in this series, I have been discussing the process of careers and career planning and development. I have also at least briefly looked into a few types of career option: working in-house as an employee and moving up through the ranks in that type of work context, or following a more entrepreneurial career track in startups or as a consultant. I switch directions here to discuss some of the fundamental tools for career planning and for successfully pursuing the goals of that planning. And I begin with what can be considered among the most important tools for career development per se: business-oriented social networking.

• To put this posting in context in this blog, I see it as being rooted in two sources of discussion that I have been pursuing here.
• The first, of course is in my series: Career Changes, Career Transitions that it is a part of, and more generally my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development and its continuation page.
• The second is in my Social Networking and Business and as a starting point for that, in my four part series: Jumpstarting Your Network, as listed at the top of that directory page.

Focusing on that last bullet point because of its immediate topical relevance, I wrote my Jumpstarting series as a means of sharing a very specific tool set that can be used tactically in job search and development, and for here-and-now career step development. My goal in this posting is to step back from that, to consider the role that effective social networking can play on overall and long-term career planning and execution. So where I focused on the more immediate job-level functions and processes of business social networking in my Jumpstarting series, here I step back to take more of a big-picture perspective where social networking is pursued in order to develop resources that would hold long term strategic value. Both approaches are crucially important.

• From a career perspective, throw a wide net when social networking, and remember that the people who can help you the most in reaching your goals can sometimes be found and reached through unexpected routes. So as a real world example, your barber might not himself be in your industry or know anything about the type of work that you do. But he might have as a long term customer and friend, the ideal networking lead that you would need to connect with.
• It is not who you directly know that counts, as much as who your contacts know and who they know where you can reach out to connect with them too.

And this brings me directly to the issues of long-term career planning and preparation. Effective business social networking goes way beyond simply addressing immediate here and now needs. This is all about bridge building, and both for where you can offer value to others and where they in turn can return that favor.

• That might be in their helping you directly in some way, with recommendations or references, or with information that could help you better plan or more effectively take advantage of those here and now opportunities.
• That might mean connecting with and staying at least loosely actively connected with people who are interesting for what they know and do, or who have wide networking reach or both, who could be valuable for specific networking reasons at some later date.
• I am going to discuss what I call Plan B career planning in an upcoming posting, where you have to rethink and change directions, and a wider networking reach can be the essential resource base needed in order to successfully traverse significant change and for dealing with the unexpected.

And with this I address what in my experience, and from working with a great many people, is the single commonest and single greatest challenge that most of us face in business social networking: a deeply held reluctance to reach out to network beyond our own immediate well-known circle of colleagues and acquaintances. Couple that with a resistance to step outside of the narrow pigeonholes of what our accepted and allowed contacts do, when networking with them and we basically kill for ourselves the value that business networking could give us.

• As a here and now, job search oriented example that I have cited in this blog before I repeat that if you only ask your immediate and close professional colleagues and friends for job leads, chances are the only ones they will be able to share with you are ones you already know about.
• Effective business networking opens doors to the unexpected and to the new to you too. That, ultimately, is where this networking gives you real value, and both short-term and long-term.

So if I were to offer one hands-on exercise for operationally and step by step developing and carrying out a career plan it would be to network courageously and outside of the comfort zone of your immediate acquaintances, and to really reach out to meet and to get to know the people you reach in this widening circle of professional acquaintances. Network courageously and find and open doors for yourself that you otherwise would never have even known to exist. And make this a working part of your lifelong career path.

As a final thought on that for this posting, I tend to think of reluctance to social and business network beyond immediate acquaintances, and reluctance and even aversion to public speaking as being two sides to the same coin. They are, and both stem from a lack of self-confidence. Ultimately effective career planning and development, and really identifying and reaching towards your own true best path is about stepping out of your immediate comfort zones and moving forward into what for you, is uncharted and new territory. Openness to business social networking is a key to making that your reality.

I am going to turn to the topics of flex-time and job sharing, telecommuting and other perhaps less traveled career paths in my next series installment, and their pros and cons. After that, as noted above, I am going to discuss the challenges of career interruptions and dislocations and forced career changes, and Plan B career planning and execution. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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