How Do I Reach Beyond Company-Sponsored Networks? Ask the Expert

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"I take advantage of my company's networking and mentoring programs, but sometimes feel like I see the same people at each event. How can I extend my network beyond this regular circle?"

Q: "I'm a minority professional with a few years of experience under my belt. I try to take advantage of the networking and mentoring programs offered through my company, but I sometimes feel like I see the same people at each event. How can I extend my network beyond this regular circle?"

A network of contacts is the best way to build your career and locate jobs. It's a valuable way to learn about your organization, your career, advancement strategies, professional opportunities, career tracks and job openings. Despite its importance, most professionals don't understand how to cultivate and use a network. Although you've made a good start within your organization, there is a multitude of networking opportunities you've yet to tap.

It's important to meet a range of individuals within your company. You can do this by participating in events that pull together staff from different groups, departments and divisions. Volunteer as a team member and participate with task forces, special events, recruitment panels, internal training or as an organizational representative. In this way, you'll meet new people and gain visibility. Most important, your initiative will put you in front of senior staff, which will enhance your reputation as a credible performer.

Keep in mind that networking isn't just about meeting people. It's about making connections, offering others your support and requesting help in return. It's keeping in touch, sharing your resources and spreading goodwill.

But don't stop here. Find out if there is a formal mentoring program in your company and if so, ask to be paired with a mentor. If no formal program exists, offer to chair a committee to explore and establish one. You can also find out if your firm provides professional coaching services. If it doesn't, suggest creating an in-house training program on how to coach staff. Then get yourself trained and be involved from its inception.

Moving Outside

Countless opportunities to network exist outside your company. Do you belong to a professional or trade association? The financial industry is the setting for a number of formal and informal groups built around industry sectors or other areas of interest. To identify them, search online or check out Gales Encyclopedia of Associations, which you can find at most any library. You can also meet other professionals through conferences, industry meetings, classes, workshops, speeches, lectures - anyplace professionals gravitate. Your sources are only limited by your imagination.

Robbie Miller Kaplan, a nationally-recognized expert on career communications, is the author of "How to Say It In Your Job Search" and "How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times," published by Prentice Hall Press.

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