Building Connections to Colleagues

It is impossible for people actively involved in electronic security to escape the term “networking.”

Everything is networking these days — from cameras to card readers, computers to cash registers, it seems our whole world is networked.

How about you? Are you networked?

Let me explain. Most of us know about our personal network — a loose consortium of family, friends and business acquaintances. We’re mindful of where people are in their careers and some of us are careful to keep our contact list up to date so we can keep in touch. But few of us actively work our networks, except for when we’re ready to make a career change. If you’ve got that mindset, you could be making a terrible mistake.

Within your group of contacts is the answer to almost any question you would care to ask. Remember: you’re not just relying on your contacts, but their contacts as well. There are thousands of people at your disposal with a collective pool of relevant knowledge that dwarfs the Internet. They have something that the ’Net sorely lacks: experience and perspective.

Imagine that you’re looking for a new battery-powered video test monitor to calibrate cameras that you’re installing. You certainly wouldn’t search the Internet — even searching for the specific string “Video Test Monitor” brings up more than 200 hits. Searching without quotes (allowing the words to be in a different order) brings up more than 10 million hits. Clearly that won’t work.

The only answer is to go through your network, asking folks you know for a specific recommendation. This is an unbiased response based on the experiences of someone you know and trust.

Establishing Your Network
How do you build this network? Some people are fortunate that they remember the names and professions of everyone they meet, but if you’re like me it doesn’t come that easy. I put virtually every contact I make into a database and add a few categories for profession, where I met them, the line of work they’re in and so on.

My other goal is to keep these contacts fresh by speaking with or E-mailing folks at least once a year or so. Even with pulling out contacts that I haven’t stayed in touch with, my database routinely has in excess of 1,400 contacts, which gets expensive around the holidays but is well worth it.

If you’d like to do this more formally, there are numerous Internet services that structure your network for you.

One free service, Linkedin (, allows you to enter your contact information, invite associates and friends to join and link to other users of the service. You can view people who are linked to your links, but you can’t contact them directly without a referral from a person who is linked directly to you. This is a great tool for finding people in specific professions or companies.

Another great thing about using your network to solve problems is that your contacts will start using you as a part of their own networks. People will call you to “pick your brain” on one topic or another, and that will strengthen your link to them the next time you need something.

Balance Networking and Work
The only concern I ever hear about this topic is “where do I draw the line?” Clearly, we’re all busy with our day jobs and have a limited amount of time to chat with friends and dispense free advice. Knowing how much time can be spent networking and what this time should entail is essential in managing this segment of your life and career. I use two filters:

I will spend as much time on my network as it saves me.
If calling my contacts and asking questions saves me three or four hours a week in research, that’s the minimum amount of time I’ll set aside for networking functions. Remember, time management can help you here as well. Consider calling people back at a more convenient time, such as during your commute, or before or after normal work hours for folks in other time zones.

Stick to verbal communication.
Since I’m a consultant and I charge for my time, I needed a way to separate friends asking for advice from paying clients. My solution: I’ll give verbal help, or pass on a phone number if appropriate, but I rarely write reports, E-mails or provide a written opinion. It limits the amount of follow-up time needed for these calls and seems to work for everyone. You’ll come up with some limits that work in your profession, and it’s important that no one feels that they’re being taken advantage of.

By working your personal network, you’ll be more effective and have an army of volunteer “consultants” at your disposal. All it takes is the time involved and being there for them when needed. And if you find that you are ready to make that career change, you’ll be calling people who owe you a favor or two, which sure can’t hurt!

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