Nov 03 2008
Networking for the Busy Information Professional: Fostering Relationships Despite Everyday Obstacles
Whether you are new to the profession or a seasoned veteran, it’s vital to take charge of your career. Career management involves preparation (continuing education, growth, and experience) as well as relationship development. The persistent challenge of today’s multitasking, downsized environment forces us to work harder and manage increasing responsibilities.
Take heart, though: there are ways to develop relationships without feeling stressed, uncomfortable, and pressured to choose between meeting your responsibilities and growing your professional network.
Approaching a person you do not know to try to start a conversation can be scary, while multiple responsibilities and time pressures may prevent you from attending as many professional meetings and functions as you would like. Networking, though, does not always need to take place in the context of a social occasion or meeting. Many activities come under the umbrella of “networking.” Let’s take a look at my own journey, and I’ll show you what I mean.
Connecting to key professionals: Leveraging relationships
My experience has included roles as: Healthcare Public Relations & Marketing Professional; Healthcare Administrator; and small business owner. The following variations on the traditional “networking” process have worked for me:
Former co-workers and informational interviewing
In one of my past lives, I worked at a Long Island hospital. When I later enrolled in LIS classes, I began conducting informational interviews with medical librarians to learn more about the profession. I contacted the Hospital’s Library Director, whom I had worked with years before, and set up an appointment to get her insights on the profession.
After our meeting, she phoned to say that one of her part-time library assistants was leaving… would I be interested in taking the position? Over the next three years, while I completed my MLS, this position laid a strong foundation for my career and provided experience that led me to many other opportunities. If I hadn’t taken initiative to meet with the Library Director, she would never have thought of me. When you are open to meeting others in the profession and learning about their roles, opportunities often present themselves.
Turning relationships into opportunities
One of my academic advisors was extremely knowledgeable and provided me with some great advice. Several years after completing my graduate work, I was between positions and looking for my next opportunity. I e-mailed her and told her about my situation, and she asked if I would be interested in working as a temporary program coordinator. This turned out to be a wonderful experience, one that enabled me to connect with and counsel students in the field. Our long-term relationship provided the basis for this opportunity.
Former potential employers: a great source of leads
Don’t discount job interviews which didn’t work out: They are wonderful networking opportunities! In years past, I had applied for positions with employers where I did not get the jobs. But, I kept an open mind and open lines of communication. The result? In at least two instances, these employers later thought I would be a good fit for another position.
I could describe many similar situations in which “networking” led to opportunities. Here are some concrete techniques that you may want to utilize in your own career path.
The “new” networker
Don’t network with the intent of “getting something.” The most fruitful networking develops over time. Although your end goal may be a job offer, simple networking techniques and completing your MLS are not enough. Successful networking is the culmination of a long process of self-exploration and preparation.
One of my LIS professors told me that getting the job you want is “90% preparation and 10% luck.” I’ve come up with an even more detailed formula: 25% curiosity; 25% preparation; 25% persistence; 25% networking.
Create a plan of action despite lethargy and obstacles
Wherever you are in your career, it is advantageous to develop a plan of action — for staying where you are, or moving to where you want to go. One of my mentors told me: “Manage your career or your career will manage you.” That phrase has stuck with me through various career changes, and is a principle which has served me well throughout.
Develop goals, and from those goals develop a plan of action. This happens by answering the following questions:
- Who should I develop relationships with?
- What organizations should I get involved with?
- What educational and professional training should I acquire?
As librarians, what do we need to become successful in our careers? Your career continuum requires the same care and attention as any other living, dynamic system. If these systems are not nurtured, they stagnate or die. Networking is one method by which to cultivate your career, keeping in mind that this is a process… a little each day goes a long way!
I’ve used several techniques to “network,” or connect with other people, that don’t involve attending meetings away from the office:
Informational interviews via phone or in person
Most people are as busy as you are. However, one of the easiest ways to make connections is to ask people about what they do and how they got to where they are. Identify a position or a location that you aspire to, contact the person currently in that position, and set up a time to speak via phone or in person. You may be surprised at how willing most people are to speak with you and talk about their journey. If you’re too shy or tentative to call, use email; I have found this technique more effective than you might think.
Become involved in any way you can
Professional activities and committee work can become overwhelming, but only if you let them. Our field needs professionals to offer their talents on varied projects, both on the local and national level. Some of these projects involve attending meetings, but many others just need someone (like you) to attend to details. Whether this involves registration for a program or coming up with speakers for a program or working on membership development, all of these activities enable you to reach out to many potential contacts without leaving your office.
Put aside a little time to deal with the tasks that will help you get to the next level in your career. Keep taking little, consistent steps.
The other pieces of the puzzle
We’ve already discussed networking techniques, so let’s look at the other 75% of this process: curiosity, preparation, and persistence. Ask questions to lead you to the activities and actions most crucial to your individual career development plan.
- What activities and aspects of your job/profession interest you the most?
- How can you learn more about those topics?
- What professional organizations are active in those areas?
- What continuing education courses excite you the most, and why?
Find out what interests and stimulates you. This will keep you engaged in the profession and happier in what you do. Coworkers and colleagues will pick up on your attitudes — both negative and positive.
If possible, take on work projects which stretch your professional skill sets. These activities will go a long way towards preparing you for future opportunities.
- Take synchronous or asynchronous online courses if you can’t get away from the office.
- Commit to reading a variety of professional publications based on your interests and priorities. This does not mean read everything; collect items as you encounter them and skim them on a regular basis.
- Join numerous lists; they include a wealth of information. The most efficient way to do this is to subscribe using a digest format. This collects emails over a period of time and sends them to you in one compact message rather than allowing many separate emails to clog your inbox.
- Maintaining professional relationships includes never burning your bridges. Even if you are leaving a position, it’s crucial to leave on good terms. You never know where your career journey may lead.
- Set up and stick to a routine. Keeping an eye on the professional literature and lurking on lists are crucial strategies. These tools provide information that you need to make strategic decisions…all without leaving your office.
- Don’t let discouragement get you down! If you haven’t done any of this, there is no time like the present to start. If you feel you’re not making progress, don’t despair; opportunities may be just around the bend. The difference between successful and non-successful candidates is often persistence — as well being in the right place at the right time.
Who has the time for this? Everyone!
You may say “Who has the time for this? My current work load doesn’t allow me to do this!” Career development needs to be a priority for everyone. I’ve outlined several nontraditional ways to approach your career development, several of which can be done on off-hours or at your convenience. Whether you spend a few minutes or a few hours per week is up to you.
By utilizing these techniques, you will be able to:
- Own and demonstrate your value to colleagues, potential and current employers;
- Leverage your value through participation in professional activities, education, and projects which enable you to quantify and document achievement and accomplishments;
- Identify potential opportunities in a variety of situations.
And once you take that job of your dreams, the process does not stop. Remember, “Manage your career… or your career will manage you!” We all have the potential to succeed.
Lori Gluckman Winterfeldt is Chief of the Library Service for the Manhattan Campus of the Department of Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System. Formerly, she served as Head of Technical Services and Collection Development at the Stephen B. Luce Library at SUNY Maritime College. Past experience includes work with health and special libraries, as well as having served as program coordinator for the Westchester Graduate Campus of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science of Long Island University. Prior to earning her MLS at CUNY Queens College, Lori received an MA in Health Administration (Hofstra University); and a BA in Literature and Rhetoric (SUNY Binghamton). Before entering librarianship, she worked in healthcare administration, marketing, public affairs, and community relations. Lori may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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