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First In A Series

When we think of the keys to having a successful career, the ability to develop and maintain a network of professional contacts is usually not high on the list of required strengths and skills.  Too bad.  This is one of the most important career and life investments any professional can make.

Based on my recent experience at the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Congress in Chicago, a significant number of healthcare leaders – those with years of experience as well as early careerists toting the latest and greatest connectivity technology – confirm this trend. Both groups are conceptually aware of the idea of networking, but it is clearly not front and center on their “to do” lists.

While it is never too late to start what should be a career-long discipline, waiting until your last semester in graduate school or until something bad happens in your career will almost assuredly prolong your job search and raise your anxiety.

Bad networking can be as bad as no networking so I plan to focus on the important differences in this blog series. 

Some of the core elements of good networking include active participation in professional organizations on the national and local level.  For hospital types, this would certainly include membership in ACHE.  Having access to the membership database is worth the price of admission.  However, to maximize the effectiveness of this investment, you should become active, volunteering for a committee in your local chapter and attending education programs.  After hours networking receptions are equally important.  Having a great network must be supported by being up-to-date on industry trends and regulatory developments.  ACHE, like HFMA and MGMA, offer mentoring programs and volunteer career coaches; professionals who can provide career management insights and who might become important members of your network. Nationally, the corporate office operates a career center with on-line and personalized career management resources. 

I recently spent time talking to a mid-level careerist who was concerned that a couple of performance missteps would soon lead to his termination.  When I asked about his network, I found that it was almost non-existent.  When I suggested that he needed to make career networking a regular part of his job, he explained that his family and church commitments made it almost impossible to find time for professional networking.   I admired his commitment, even his priorities – life balance is important – but I thought his judgment was off-the-shelf lousy.  The operative word obviously is balance.   I am highlighting this case because he is NOT alone – there are thousands upon thousands of professionals who do not develop networks because they are too busy with work, family, church and making excuses – until they lose their jobs.

Career aspirations aside, one of a husband/father’s duties includes being a good financial provider – preferably without prolonged periods of marginal or no employment.  I want to point out that this example could have just as easily been about a woman.  In fact, women executives have told me that the demands on their time — work, family, church and those after-hour duties as the chief cook and bottle washer — make it even more challenging for them to carve out time for networking. Single parents and others face other challenges that pose their own complications for career networking.

Husband, wife, or single adult,  I would argue that you have a duty to make this critical investment of time.

© 2011, John Gregory Self