The power of long term networking

Credit: flickr/rxb

I was speaking to a group of recent college graduates who all had the good fortune of being hired into the same company's IT consulting practice and were in the process of going through an intensive introductory training program. I would like to tell you what I told them.

I asked the class to make believe it was fifteen years in the future. Then, I pointed to a person on my left, I'll call her Mary, and asked the group to make believe that she was now the Senior Vice President of North American operations for the company. I then pointed to a person on my right named John and said he had left the consulting firm about ten years ago and was now the CIO of a Fortune 500 company.

With this stage set, I turned to Mary and told her that John's company was in the process of looking to hire a consulting company for a two million dollar project.

I then asked the group which of the following scenarios Mary would have wished had transpired over the past fifteen years.

1. Mary and John had kept in touch every couple of years via LinkedIn, simply saying hello and congratulating each other when each was promoted. 2. Mary and John have not spoken in the past ten years since John left the company, but she did go to his going away party. 3. Mary and John have not corresponded since the training program they were both in at the beginning of their careers.

I would venture to say that Mary had hopes for #1, then #2, and then #3. The moral of this story is that you never know where people's careers will lead them and the potential effect they could have on your career five, ten, or twenty years later. Therefore, a quick hello once in a while to an old colleague or friend not only keeps you connected to people you like, it simultaneously keeps you in touch with people that may be of professional advantage to you also.

Now let's take that same scenario, but with a small twist. Let's look at the quality of connection, rather than the time that has passed since their last correspondence. In this new scenario, John and Mary worked together about five years ago and haven't corresponded since John left the consulting firm to work for the client where he is now CIO.

1. By her nature, Mary has always been a team player and helped her fellow team members whenever possible. As it happened, she did a big favor for John by lending him her best Business Analyst for two weeks to help him meet the deadline of an extremely important project. 2. Mary has always been a team player, but never really went out of her way to help those around her. She was well liked, respected, considered competent, and hardworking, but not someone you would go to if you needed a favor. She worked with John on a couple of major projects, collaborated successfully as needed. 3. Mary is very competitive by nature, more than willing to take credit for the work of others if the situation allowed, and would take advantage of other people’s issues if it was to her personal advantage. Prior to John leaving the company, Mary and John had a heated discussion because Mary tried to convince one of John’s best testers to work for her without asking John’s permission, which is the standard protocol at their company. When confronted, Mary denied any wrongdoing, but Mary’s and John’s relationship was permanently damaged from the situation.

Like the previous scenario, #1 provides Mary’s best chance to get the consulting deal with John’s company, #2 provides somewhat of an advantage, and #3 will most likely remove Mary’s company from potential consideration.

The moral of this second scenario is that the way you act toward your coworkers, clients, staff and others today can have an unexpected impact on your success in the future. My first boss told me that after a while it would feel like there are only 250 people working in high tech and they just cycle from company to company. Well, at the time I thought he was just trying to be funny. You know what, he was right.

When putting these two stories together, take note that a combination of being ethical and helpful to people today and loosely connected to them through your career in the future, can have a long term positive impact on your reputation, your career success, and most likely your financial bottom line.

Lastly, you should also begin building your professional reputation, which I’ll talk about more in a future blog. For now, just know that you should work hard and try your very best. In the long run, the combination of industry knowledge, professional skill, and a great professional reputation will take you far.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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