Professional Development for Training Professionals: Building a Professional Network Before You Need One

You know you should be active, eat well and visit the doctor for routine checkups, especially for preventive exams that could help you avoid a heart attack or a stroke. But do you always follow a doctor’s or a fitness magazine’s advice? Wouldn’t it be smart to take care of yourself before an unforeseen health scare hits?

Keeping your professional network “healthy” is also good for you. It may even save your career one day.

Luckily, it is never too late to build your professional network. Over the years, we have learned some best practices in three areas: building a professional network by joining professional associations, earning relevant certifications that showcase current and new skills as part of an effective career and network-building strategy, and maximizing a positive virtual career presence to ensure successful career growth.

We both learned the hard way that memberships in professional associations are vital to career mobility, regardless of the industry. Neither of us had a professional network outside of our respective organizations: Cynthia’s in banking and Trent’s in higher education for career colleges. How we wished that we had been actively engaged in local associations, building regional networks before we both started looking for new opportunities. In addition to providing valuable connections, active involvement in these professional associations has contributed to continuous skill development, which is especially important in the learning and development field.

When the strategy is to differentiate yourself from other job-seekers, earning certifications that demonstrate your additional training can make all the difference. The L&D industry has evolved rapidly in the past decade. Potential clients and employers alike want the assurance that your skills have kept pace with these changes. If you are searching for a new position, professional certifications and credentials validate your ability to contribute to an organization’s success.

A number of companies offer specialized certifications in virtual facilitation, training management, leadership development and coaching, which are especially important in the L&D industry now. There are specialized certifications that will help you to keep current in the emerging field of microlearning, video design and e-learning development. Any of them may prove useful in a job search. The real goal of being certified is that it can validate what you already know, enhance existing skills, build new competencies and even increase your business acumen. It may even help you to gain some much needed self-confidence, which especially beneficial to anyone who is between jobs due to a structural reorganization or a company’s downsizing.

The time to build your professional virtual presence is right now. Today, LinkedIn and Facebook provide platforms for exactly this kind of networking, where you can share your professional expertise with others.

The first thing many leaders do when someone contacts them is to look up him or her on LinkedIn. What they find there influences their perceptions enormously. Write a solid profile that captures your passions, interests and accomplishments. Upload a headshot, and be cognizant of professional attire and appearance in your photo. (We all love pets, but they should probably not be in your LinkedIn headshot.) Consider writing some opinion pieces and posting them. Start to connect with thought leaders, people you admire and work colleagues. Join discussion groups, and contribute to the conversations there. Write recommendations for people in your network, and ask them to reciprocate.

We cannot stress enough how important it is to stay connected with your colleagues and former co-workers. After 30 years at a higher education company, Trent was laid off due to the corporation’s massive restructuring. Afterward, he connected on LinkedIn with a former colleague, who helped him to find his new “dream” job.

We hope that in sharing a few of these best practices in how to build a professional network before you really need to use one, you will be reminded to support yourself the same way you support others in your role as a learning and development professional.