If you are just starting out in your career, you may find that most of the people you meet or know in your field work in your office (or sat beside you in a college class). Luckily, every profession has an association with members that span all levels. Associations offer numerous ways to connect by hosting regular speaker, educational, and fundraising events. There you will find a room full of like-minded people who are willing to extend their hand and say “Hello, what brought you here?” (For my introvert readers who are now thinking “No way!”—go back to the blog and archives and read a few tips on attending events.)
Associations offer much more than just meetings, though. When you get beyond attending events and become involved in an association (be it professional, community or political) you will find a wide range of opportunities to volunteer. Here you can “do good” while pursuing your interests, showcasing your strengths and learning (in real time) the kinds of communication, relationship building and leadership skills that could take years to develop in your everyday role and responsibilities.
A few true-life networking and skill building examples: Want to learn how to sell? Join the program committee and learn how to make a cold call to someone “in the know” and invite/persuade him or her to speak to your group–for free, at night, an hour’s drive from their home, in February! Want to learn what bottom-line responsibility is all about? Join the finance committee and learn what it means to stretch the dollars budgeted to run a non-profit organization. Don’t have time for a full year’s community commitment? Volunteer for a day to help build a house or fill up and distribute boxes of food and discover the true meaning of having a roof over your head or food on the table.
So the best advice to those new to the workplace (or in a career change) on how to meet people in your field (and elsewhere) is to join a professional organization. Then make it part of your job to attend the organization’s regular meetings, annual conferences and volunteer for an activity or one of the group’s committees. Then extend yourself to other organizations. Building a professional presence in your industry or field in as an important part of your career development and in earning a “gives back” reputation.