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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Building a strong professional network

[This write-up was published as an article in the Straits Times, Singapore's leading newspaper on April 12, 2016]

A strong professional network is an invaluable asset in one’s career. It can be a tremendous source of information and inspiration.  It can even help you find your dream job since people usually prefer to hire those familiar to them rather than someone completely new. And as the higher you climb in your career, the more you will need the strength of a network to survive and thrive.

A few suggestions on how to build a strong professional network:

Focus on quality – not quantity:

Having hundreds of connections on LinkedIn or a huge collection of business cards serves no purpose if you do not have people who are willing and able to help you. Do your contacts know you well as a professional ? Would they be willing to collaborate with you or recommend you ? If not, you need to work on strengthening the quality of your relationship with your network. A good way to build strong relationships is to identify people who share your values and passions. Relationships that are founded on common values and interests are more likely to sustain and will also be fulfilling.

Be Proactive:

It is important to take the initiative in staying in touch with your network. Do not wait for others to initiate things. According to Jayesh Menon, Global Organizational Effectiveness Leader at Micron Technology, online connections can be a good way to start a relationship but it is necessary to reconnect through phone or emails. And nothing beats a face-to-face conversation, even if it is only once a year, he says. To start networking with a person you are not familiar with, Jayesh recommends finding a common friend or a common interest and expressing a genuine desire to connect. According to him, people generally will not refuse a request to connect with someone if there is mutual value add in networking.

Think about what you can do for others:

A great way to keep your network strong and healthy is to focus on what you can do for people in your network. For example, if you see an interesting piece of information or a job posting that might be relevant to someone you know, send it to them even if they have not explicitly asked you. Similarly, try to find opportunities or projects that you can work on with people in your network. At the same time, do not overdo it and impose yourself on others in the name of networking.

Volunteer:

Volunteering is a great way to find a good network. Identify a meaningful activity that interests you and join a group of volunteers in that line of work. You can try to volunteer in an activity that is related to your work. For example, if your occupation is a safety officer, you might consider volunteering for community activities related to emergency preparedness. You will open yourself to a network of interesting people. Such a network can open up unexpected possibilities. Besides, volunteering is a very fulfilling activity and looks great on your resume as well!

Avoid Complacency:

When times are good, it is easy to forget the importance of a network. Jayesh cautions against becoming complacent while cultivating relationships with people in your network. You might even consider using a spreadsheet to keep track of your contacts and make sure you touch base with them regularly. Maintaining a strong network should be high on your priorities always.


If you do not have a strong network yet, the best time to start is now. As the saying goes - the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the next best time is now. A good network built strongly and nourished with care, can yield rich results in the long term.

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