Once you understand how important networking is to your career, you’ll want to get started right away. Don’t limit your CHAMP network to your own company, or even your own industry! Get out of your own backyard as often as possible by attending formal and informal networking events. Within each industry, there are countless opportunities for formal networking. Try to persuade your manager to sponsor your attendance or participation. Many conference websites even offer templates and sample letters to help you do so!
Author’s note: This article is an excerpt from my book, Network Beyond Bias.
Professional associations are typically non-profit organizations that seek to advance the “state of the art” in an industry or field of practice. These associations usually offer training events, certifications, professional designations, conferences, and networking events to members and prospective members. Such offerings are typically hosted by chapters at the local, state, and national levels, so you can determine how involved you want to be. To find an association in your field, search the web for “______ industry association” or “______ industry certification.” Be sure to include your specific industry in the search.
Many industries also groups dedicated to diversifying the talent pool and advancing specific demographic groups within the industry. In the cybersecurity industry, for example, the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals (ICMCP) hosts multiple events annually and has an active online community. Organizations like the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR) and the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) strive to meet the needs of affinity members in their respective fields. If you don’t identify with an organization’s target demographic, find out if allies are welcome as members or guests at their events. Don’t be afraid to show up at the conference that’s not for you. The experience will be invaluable!
Vendor User Groups
Does your company use software or information services from outside vendors? Check the websites of the companies that provide these services. They often host their own conferences, user groups, and advisory panels so they can stay connected to their customers. Be sure to check with your manager before attending, as your company may have a policy about what level of involvement is appropriate.
Industry Trade Shows
Going further, industry-wide trade shows bring together multiple vendors in one location. Your company may participate in some trade shows as a vendor and in others as a consumer of goods and services. Ask the salespeople in your company or industry about the trade shows they attend and see if you can tag along.
Colleges and Universities
Colleges and universities in your area may host recruiting and networking events so students can meet with or learn from alumni and local professionals. Some of these events are specific to fields of study, others are not. Call your company’s HR department or check the local campus’s website to find these opportunities. Remember to ask how you can get involved with mentoring programs on campus as well!
Another way to make the most of your local campus (or an online program) is to take a class. During your studies, you’ll have a chance to collaborate and connect with people of all different backgrounds and ages. At the same time, you’ll build your own knowledge and skills, making you more valuable to your employer and your network!
Membership in Toastmasters International is, in my opinion, the single best value in experiential learning. You can learn to speak in public, manage meetings, improve your listening skills, and test leadership skills. In the process, you’ll learn a lot about fellow club members, many of whom you would never have otherwise met. You expand your professional network while becoming more valuable within it!
Meetups and Community Events
Connecting in your local community is always time well spent, as it allows you to meet people who have similar passions. Becoming a volunteer in a community organization helps you build skills and self-confidence as well. Check sites like Meetup.com or VolunteerMatch.org for local opportunities to reach out and give back.
Finally, and especially if you have mobility issues or significant time constraints, expand your network via social media. Join a Slack channel related to your field, industry, or interests. Engage with other professionals and thought leaders on Twitter. Scroll LinkedIn and comment on posts or articles that resonate with you. Contributing to discussions on these platforms can help you build both relationships and name recognition. I’ve personally used Twitter and LinkedIn to connect with thought leaders around the world, adding them to my own CHAMP Network over time.