Networking In Your Niche — But Outside Your Company

Networking in Your Niche - But Outside Your Company | CorporetteWhat’s the best way to network in your niche and with experts in your field — but outside your company?  How can you find these experienced professionals, and how should you reach out? Can you find a mentor outside your own company? Reader M wonders:

I just landed a job in a field I’m excited to be in, and am looking to make the most out of it. However, I am the only one in my office who is responsible for this specific subject matter. While my managers help me out whenever they can, the only other person who has similar exposure to this type of work is based at our overseas office. There are a number of professionals based in my city who are experts on this particular subject matter, and I would love to meet them and perhaps find a mentor in this field. However, since my office is based a bit outside of the city and I work long hours, I’m not exactly in the position to meet up with someone for a weekday lunch or coffee. How can I start to form relationships with experienced professionals in my field when my only free time is on nights and weekends? There are only a very limited number of conferences and events that I know of, so I thought it might be worthwhile to reach out to someone directly. Thoughts?

What a great idea, Reader M — networking with other people in your niche is going to allow you to accelerate your learning, have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and even give you some visibility in the field and hopefully the means to move to other companies if and when the time is right. Networking when you’re junior takes some finesse, and maybe I’m overcomplicating your particular situation — you can always just call the local experts you know of and ask to take them to breakfast, of course! — but my concern is that a cold call would seem either like you’re job searching, or possibly (depending on the field) like you’re trying to get intel on how Company X does its work so you can copy it for your own company. However it’s interpreted, it might raise eyebrows with the expert you’re calling as well as with your company.  (One option that might bypass this: ask your overseas colleague if they have any local-to-you contacts in your field who you should know, or what local groups they recommend joining and who is in charge of them — and then ask if you may reach out using your colleague’s name.)  So, instead, my approach would be to focus on getting involved in associations and clubs within your field — this will put you in the right position to meet the experts at an association event.  If there are no local events, your involvement in the association still gives you a good reason to reach out to the experts — interview them for the association’s newsletter, or set up a local event yourself.  (It also gives you a good reason to leave work early, within reason — having an industry meeting once a month or once a quarter is generally accepted and encouraged by employers. I’ve also mentioned my love of breakfast meetings for networking — it’s often more acceptable to come an hour late to work rather than leave two hours early, but obviously, you have to know your own office here.) SO: Some ideas on how to get involved:

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Feeling Jealous of a Younger Colleague

Feeling Jealous of a Younger ColleagueWhat should you do if you’re feeling envious of a colleague who’s younger than you, seemingly unappreciative of the opportunity you’re giving her, and also — in your opinion — inappropriately flirty at networking events? Reader J wonders:

I’m a 40 yr old business development manager at an engineering firm. I’ve formed a group of female colleagues that helps with networking and business that’s getting notice in my city (like a Stiletto Mafia). A few months ago one of the key ladies in my group invited my junior engineer in my firm to join.

This engineer is funny and smart but also a gorgeous 24 yr old. Now I am torn between wanting to be a mentor and jealousy. I am jealous that she has access to this group of high powered ladies that are my friends and doesn’t seem to grateful that I’m including her. This engineer also occasionally helps with networking. It’s frustrating to attend a business event while these men are flirting with her. She isn’t overt, but she is aware of her looks and plays them up.

I’d like to drop her from the group and ask her to focus on current clients vs networking. Am I being a hypocrite?

I think you’re being honest, Reader J — a lot more than most people would be in person. I don’t think this is unusual, though; I think a lot of younger women alienate good mentors by being too entitled (like the reader who expected her boss to help her network) or arrogant at work, or, here, too focused on other parts of life like flirting. (We have offered some tips in the past on how to network with older women that may help younger readers here!)

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Networking Lunches: What to Wear (If You Don’t Wear a Suit)

networking-lunch-attireWhat should you wear to lunch while you’re networking? Reader C wonders…

I work in Recruitment Marketing at a Big 4 firm. I like my job and what I’m doing but it’s time to start looking for a new job. As a part of the search, I’m going to be setting up networking meetings over coffee or lunch. I’ve found lots of dos and don’ts for how to set up the meetings, what to say or not to say, etc, but I’m having trouble finding advice about what to wear. I want to look professional, but a suit seems too formal. What should I wear?

Interesting question — we haven’t talked about what to wear to a networking lunch in a long while (although we did just talk about a fairly similar topic, what to wear to an alumni luncheon). I’m going to advise you to wear something I’m going to call Interview-Suit-Minus-One. I know, catchy.

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Alumni Mentoring and Networking: What Works, What Doesn’t

Alumni Mentoring and Networking | CorporetteHave you found great mentors through alumni events? What is the best alumni event (or networking event in general) that you’ve ever attended? Have you done alumni mentoring, on either side? I attended a great Northwestern networking and mentoring event last week through an alumnae group I’m involved with, Council of 100, and in our small group sessions the topic got around to general networking events organized by the school — what NU was doing that was good, what it was doing that was bad, and so forth. To be honest, neither of my institutions — Northwestern and Georgetown — have really great alumni networking systems in place. Students reach out to alumni for informational interviews, but there is no established system (at least that I’m aware of) for students to discover alumni that may be off the beaten path (like, say, me). One of the great ideas I thought we came up with was to have an alumni database organized not just by company, but by favorite professor or class at the college — then you could look up people who were like you and see what paths their careers had taken.

Anyway, I’m curious, ladies — have you found mentors through alumni events? What is your school doing right (or wrong)? Are you involved in alumni events?

(Pictured: Board of Governors Dinner, May 2010-2, originally uploaded to Flickr by Alan C.)


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Worlds Colliding: When Networking Groups Want You to Join a Facebook Group

Facebook networking groupCan you keep your Facebook account private from colleagues and professional friends? Can you grow your career by networking on Facebook and still have a semblance of a personal life? What is the polite way to respond when asked, as Reader E was, to join a Facebook Group for a committee she’s on?

I recently joined a committee for the local bar that organizes a fun run every year to support a local charity, which I’m excited about doing because I’m a runner myself and I really like what this charity does. Today we got an email about the first meeting, and the woman in charge asked us all to join the facebook group for this committee. I am really uncomfortable with this request. My facebook profile is almost completely locked down from my professional life. I’m not searchable, I’m not friends with any of my coworkers, and I don’t want people I work with reading it. Is her request that we join this facebook group unreasonable? Can I decline? I have a work email set up so people can communicate with me about work related things. I don’t want to use my facebook profile for it!

We haven’t talked about Facebook in a while — we talked about what to do when your boss wants to “friend” you, as well as looked at FB’s privacy settings (a long while ago — here’s a Lifehacker post on privacy settings that promises to be “always up to date”) — so I’m curious to see how much readers think the situation has changed. [Read more…]

What “Business Casual” Means for Students Who Are Networking

Shirred Side Cowlneck SweaterA lot of companies and networking groups have parties for students over the holidays — I can remember attending more than a few in my younger years.  The perennial question, as Reader N wonders:  what do you wear when it says “business casual attire”? Perhaps more importantly, what things shouldn’t you wear for winter networking events?

I’m a college student who is interested in finance, and go to a lot of information sessions for banks. The dress code is usually business casual or business attire. Other than just wearing a suit, what can be appropriate in these situations? A dress like this Metallic T-Shaped Tunic Sweater from Express (picture) or this Merona Sleeveless Empire Dress (picture) with tights and a jacket? Black slacks and a nice sweater?

This is a great question, and I want to start by saying, again, that when you’re networking — at least for a conservative job — the goal is is for your clothes to be muted enough that people remember your brains (or your words or your resume), NOT your outfit.  A few basic rules, just responding to your question: [Read more…]