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The Other Network: Why Personal and Professional Mingling Matters

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Establishing and maintaining personal and professional networks helps you manage life and career.

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockWhen you hear the word "networking," I'll bet the transmission of electronic signals across some kind of medium comes to mind first. But, there's another kind of networking that matters for your career. It involves no signals, no transmitters and receivers and no formal protocols. I call it personal and professional networking.

A Web of Relationships Defines Personal and Professional Networking

This kind of networking is all about interactions and relationships between people. Personal networking encompasses friends, family and other forms of social organizations or relationships (church groups, athletic or other teams, and other social organizations, etc.). It also ties into schools and their alumni organizations, and so forth. Ultimately, personal relationships form some of the most important relationships in our lives, especially those related to friends and family.

Professional relationships grow primarily from work, or from professional groups or associations based on one's work-related interests and activities. IT professionals are likely to join one or more professional associations during their working lives, such as the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) or the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), to name a couple of the biggest such organizations. These groups also represent communities, and are built around shared interests and the desire to interact with other like-minded individuals around those interests.

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From Relationships to Networking

What turns a collection of relationships into a network is the way in which we choose to interact with the other people to whom we're related. In this case, networking means at least the following things:

  • An understanding that relationships have value and are worth establishing for all kinds of reasons. IT professionals might engage in peer relationships where all parties share certain interests, and work together to pursue them. Often this means digging into a subject, sharing good resources and information, and working toward some kind of competency or mastery. IT professionals might also engage in mentor-mentee relationships. Our professional relationships at work also play into this mix, so that colleagues and coworkers from a particular company may end up networking together at some point in the future, even if they didn't work together, know each other or even work there at the same time.
  • One is aware of the relationships to which one belongs, and makes a conscious effort to keep those relationships active and strong. Among other things, this means making an effort to communicate with others from time to time. Ideally, this happens naturally. Realistically, this means making a commitment to interact and communicate periodically. For most people, this means at least once a year. Closer relationships definitely require higher frequency of interaction.
  • To get something, one must first give something. If you ever want to use your network to help you find or get something — a new job, a good resource, information about a promising new tool or technology — it's a good idea to proactively give to your network partners. It might just mean sharing a pointer to a good website or online resource, or it might mean extending an offer of help to somebody looking for one of those things themselves. When making regular contact with network partners, in fact, it's a good idea to remind them that you're available to provide a reference, willing to help spread the word about something, or able to provide input and insight on certain topics.

"The more you participate, by asking questions and also by providing such answers as you can, the more people will come to recognize you and become inclined to interact with you."

Working Your Networks

Most successful people have many network partners, interact with them frequently and place great value on their relationships. To make personal and professional networking work for you, you should probably do some or all of these things (and the more often you do them, the stronger your networks will be):

  1. Engage via social networking. Using some combination of personal (such as Facebook) and professional (such as LinkedIn) social networking sites, make the effort to stay in touch with your network. Sharing is a particularly good ways to stay visible.
  2. Be active in your communities. Online communities such as or — communities of Microsoft users in general and Windows 10 users in particular, respectively — are great places to learn from by watching the flow of Q&A online. The more you participate, by asking questions and also by providing such answers as you can, the more people will come to recognize you and become inclined to interact with you.
  3. Help your chosen constituencies: When you join a professional association or society, it's about more than just reading the journals and paying your annual dues. You can get involved in local chapters (where applicable), engage in helping to define and deliver timely and useful information, help out with meetings or conferences, help raise money, and give back to your organization.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Schedule time to check in with friends and colleagues at regular intervals.

How to Ask the Network for Something

There's one thing to remember before you turn to any of your networks, personal or professional, for help. Try to avoid putting others on the spot by asking for something that's highly time consuming or otherwise difficult to say "no" to.

For example, instead of asking someone to help you find a job, tell them you're looking for a job and would appreciate a reference. Or, instead of asking for a solution to a problem, tell them about your problem, and ask them if they have any ideas about how you might solve it yourself. People, including your network partners, can only rarely give you what you want or need directly. But they can always give you information, ideas, suggestions and advice. By asking your network for something they can absolutely, positively do for you, you ensure a better outcome for everyone involved.