This is the second post in my series about early career decisions.
Today I would like to talk about one of the most under appreciated assets that each of us owns at work. Our colleagues. Whether you work for a small organization or a large one, in your day to day work you are probably building a large number of relationships with fellow workers, customers, suppliers and more. As these acquaintances move across companies and industries, your professional network extends with them.
Colleagues can shape your career to such an extent that many individuals never have to actively search for a job, as new career opportunities just seem to flow in their direction. Here are a couple of examples that I have personally witnessed in just the past two weeks:
Knowing that I am hiring a new member for my team, one of my customers called and told me about a good candidate that he used to work with in the past. I decided to interview that person, based solely on his recommendation. In the end I did not hire this candidate, but the point is that she would never have even gotten an interview without a recommendation from her colleague. Another example: my boss has been looking for a new member for her team for the past couple of months. Over that period, she has called five or six individuals that used to work for her previously, in the hopes of luring them to join her team. My point is this: if you are able to build and maintain a strong relationship with your colleagues, you will have created a long lasting and powerful career resource.
So how do you build such strong and long lasting relationships with your colleagues? Here are a few tips:
1. Make Your Boss Look Good - doing your job well; giving your boss credit where credit is due; supporting him in front of his boss; are some of the easiest ways of making your boss look good. Do that consistently, and when your boss gets promoted within the organization or moves to a better position in a different company, he may try to drag you along with him. Think I am overstating the case? The first thing a new executive does in a new position, is move people he trusts into positions of power around him. This is a quick and effective way to consolidate power and ensure that he gets the job done. Be one of those trusted few.
2. Be Fun to Work With - coming to work in the morning is much nicer if you like the people you work with. In every organization there are some who are liked by all, others who are tolerated, and a few who are despised. If you are someone people like, you will find that they try to take you with them into future positions. You know what they say, good people are hard to find. To achieve this goal, be courteous, professional and respectful to others. Try to avoid gossip or negativity, and most importantly in my opinion, try to avoid any blatantly political actions. Stay above the day to day corporate warfare and you will be rewarded.
3. Keep in Touch - the very essence of building a professional network, is keeping in touch with people. Ironically, when folks leave the company, is the time at which their value to your professional network increases the most. Luckily, these days keeping in touch with former colleagues has become a very simple matter. You can use such tools as linkedin.com or Plaxo to keep in touch with people. You can also send the occasional e-mail update or the annual Christmas card, and having lunch with some of your old colleagues periodically is not only useful, but fun!
Some companies actually encourage their alums to stay in touch. One consulting company I worked for in the past has a website for all it's former employees and sends quarterly news updates to everyone registered to that alumni network. In another of my former companies, alums themselves have started a Yahoo mailing group through which we all stay in touch.
4. Work Outside Your Team - developing your existing contacts is a good idea, expanding your colleague network is even better. To do so, try to find some opportunities to work with members from other parts of the organization. A great way to do this is to volunteer for some cross functional teams. It is always a good idea to reach-out to customers, attend trade shows, and participate in company social events. Those functions all offer opportunities for meeting and interacting with more of your colleagues.
Other posts in this series include:
Employer Selection: a Strategic Career Decision
Your Colleagues - Your Assets
Active Resume Building
Recovering from Early Career Disaster