My Network, My Work Lifeline
By Cheryl Shea, Senior Product Manager, Strategic Integrations, Tyco Security Products
The mother of triplets, I’ve left and re-entered the workforce twice now and not sacrificed salary or position, even after an absence of nearly four years. The secret to my mobility? It’s not really a secret. It’s the professional network I developed 20 years ago as a technical instructor and have been maintaining ever since.
From Colleagues to Friends
Starting out in my career as a product manager, I made connections at trade shows and other technology events with both men and women in my field and related fields. I have typically worked in male-dominated technologies and I find that it is important to have both men and women I respect to be in my network. I came to rely on them professionally the way I rely socially on my friends outside of work. I called on them to run ideas by, gather information from and get perspective on new technologies and products. Of course, some of my colleagues have also become good friends, and over the years we have shared our lives—in and out of work.
Staying in Touch While Being a Stay-at-Home Mom
When I had triplets, I decided to take a few years off to stay home with them. I exchanged exciting conversations about bits and bytes for wonderful conversations about Elmo and sharing. But the one work-related thing I never stopped doing was nurturing my network. I kept up with people via email, LinkedIn and lots of coffee at Starbucks! And though it may seem strange, I read trade magazines during naptime. It allowed me to stay somewhat current and provided good conversation topics with my network.
Networking is more than simply exchanging business cards or accepting a LinkedIn connection. It’s establishing relationships with other like-minded people and professionals and regularly communicating with them. Nowadays, you can stay in touch easily via online social connections such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Organizational memberships, both formal and informal, are also great, especially for providing opportunities to meet face to face.
Great Network Coverage
Most helpful to me, my network kept me current in my area and made me aware of trends. This was especially true for me when I decided to go back to work full-time. I had maintained a solid group of colleagues I could enlist help from. Times and technology change quickly in my field and my network was my lifeline back into the workplace. If I had a question about daycare hours, I had someone to call. How do I answer that interview question about the career gap? I had a wonderful mentor for that one!
All relationships take some work and that is definitely true of your network. It doesn’t mean you turn it into a full-time job but you must take care to connect with people with some frequency to keep it meaningful and strong. A quick phone call to someone whose blog you read can lead you to places you never dreamed of. Your network can help guide you to your next promotion. For me, an interview I had for a job I didn’t get led me to the career position I have today.
No one can predict what the future may hold and this is why your network is critical. I’ve learned that if you water your network like you’d water a garden, it will work for you at any stage of your life and career.