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The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 12: Building an Active Contact List

Chapter 12. Building an Active Contact List

Few skills are as critical to long-term career growth as professional networking. Your ability to meet and cultivate relationships has a profound impact on your career. Whether it is with your peers, past employers, vendors, or virtually anyone else, this factor more than any other will dictate your career growth.

Your professional network is an expansion of this list and should include virtually everyone you meet. The primary objective of this list, professionally, is to ensure that you can keep them abreast of opportunities, your career development, and your career goals. In turn, they will have you in mind when an opportunity comes their way.

The mistake common to most people, and this is particularly true of technologists, is that they build their list using industry peers only. They seldom include people from other professions.

This mistake is due, in part, to the fact that we tend to spend time with those who share our interest. Work is a large part of our life; therefore, our direct peers form a sizable part of our professional network.

However, if you are to be successful in this critical endeavor, you need to expand the reach of your contacts. Most likely, you come into contact with new people on a daily basis. You interact in some way and yet never get beyond the simple hello and goodbye.

Your next big opportunity might be found through the person in front of you when you pick up your morning coffee or as you wait to pick up lunch. Although I don't want you to view everyone you meet as just one more contact for the benefit of your career, the fact remains that each person you meet presents unique opportunities—both personally and professionally.

In many cases, fear is the culprit. If you are shy and introverted, building a professional network is akin to having teeth pulled—if critical, you might do it. If you fall into this category, my advice to you is this: Get over it—quickly. Your ability to create a thriving professional network is critical.

I cannot overstate the impact of a professional network. A professional network goes well beyond the people who make up your personal list. Each person on your contact list has his own contact list. As you search for resources within your contacts, your contacts in turn will look through their own list, effectively extending your reach.

This ripple effect can lead to incredible opportunities. I became CIO for a small financial services company in just such a way. A friend of mine since childhood had a friend and associate, and he introduced us. This friend, in turn, had a business relationship with another man.

When the business owner was dramatically expanding his business, he asked my friend's friend who he knew who might have the skills to build and run his technology department. A day after that conversation, I was on the phone with the business owner. Two months later, after a short consulting period, I was brought in as the CIO.

Interestingly, I was the only technology professional in this scenario. Virtually no competition existed for the role. Expand your reach by networking with a wide variety of people, particularly those who are outside of your industry.

The sections that follow address a list of key elements and ideas I've compiled to help you learn this valuable skill.

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