Linking up: professional networking online
When you start a new construction project, one of the first items of business is putting together a contact list of job superintendents, inspectors, and utility and media contacts. Sometimes this list might also include key property owners adjacent to your project and elected officials in the area. It doesn't take too many projects to figure out that building this network as soon as possible is critical to achieving a successful job — when the water main breaks, undermines the power pole, and causes live wires to fall onto the road, you quickly realize how important that network is.
This same practice of building and leveraging a professional network should be extended to your overall job and career. If you're not taking the time to build contacts in your field, you're losing an opportunity to ensure your success in your field.
In the past, those who were masters at building professional networks took advantage of social and professional organizations, phone calls, letters, and office or field visits. They also used every opportunity during face-to-face industry meetings to reconnect and reinforce that network. While all of these steps are still important today, we now have many more opportunities to meet and connect with others in our field. The online networking site,LinkedIn, has quickly become a successful tool for finding people with professional interests that match our own. As of March 22, 2011, 100 million professionals from more than 200 countries were registered on the site.
Joining LinkedIn is free. But while registering is easy, many people tell me they just aren't sure what to do once they join.
Because of this, I put together a short explanation of how to get started on LinkedIn: "Hey, Where's that Water Cooler." It's part of a beginner's guide to using social media that I wrote in 2009 (and will be updating this year).
The first step to using LinkedIn is to fill out your profile. Think about when you first meet someone — both of you go through a series of questions and answers that usually cover where you work, the highlights of what you do, and maybe where you worked before. If you talk long enough, you might even share some special interests or hobbies. Well, this is exactly what you're doing on LinkedIn — telling that professional story about yourself.
You don't have to completely fill out the profile right away. It took me about a year before mine was as complete as it is today. And I still go in occasionally and update information. The best thing to do: add enough information so that others will have a good idea about what you do. Then you can browse through profiles of other people to get ideas on what else you might want to add.
After your profile has been set up, you can start looking for groups to join. Groups are a great way to easily find and connect with others and keep up with industry news and resources. Some public works-related groups I have joined are the Chicago Metro Chapter of the American Public Works Assocation, the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the GIS Mapping and Geo Technology Professionals, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. My settings allow me to receive updates each day about what has been posted in each group. There are also discussion forums where you can post questions about job-related challenges. When we were developing our database for our road network in GIS, I posted a question in the GIS group asking what framework others used for roadway information in their GIS. In a short amount of time, I received numerous responses and a lot of helpful links to other resources.
There's a messaging system behind LinkedIn that allows you to send private correspondence to your contacts. This is useful if you're connected to someone and need to contact them, but don't have their e-mail address. You can also use this to reach out to someone in a group to further discuss an issue on which they might have commented. Or you can message people to explore collaboration opportunities.
Many people also turn to LinkedIn to find jobs or potential employees. Because your profile is a type of resume, it's very useful for employers who are looking for people to fill jobs. Companies can also post job openings for a fee. Many times I see job openings also posted in the groups.
LinkedIn has several more features that can be further explored once you're a member, including company and personal branding and promotion opportunities. If you're interested in learning more, check out my short, basic Webinar hosted by the Illinois section of AWWA: Using LinkedIn for Your Business or Utility. For more advanced information, Experts Connection is hosting a Webinar on April 27, 2011, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. ET: LinkedIn for Executives — Beyond the Basics.
If you're already on LinkedIn or end up joining, feel free to connect with me athttp://www.linkedin.com/in/pbroviak.