Professional Networking: Benefits and Challenges

Professional networking can be described as an effective tool that is used for leveraging professional contacts (Dimauro, 2011). Networking is a process for development and nurturing relationships with people. Through building professional relationships, a member of the network is able to create a venue for gathering, and exchanging of important information that is useful for networking partners to meet both professional and personal goals (Dimauro, 2011). However, it remains to ponder whether networking is always beneficial without cons to networking members. In an attempt to respond to the concern, this essay discusses professional networking, particularly its pros and cons for the members involved, giving a brief case of benefits and shortcomings of LinkedIn as an example of the professional networking tool. The discussion suggests that professional networking is beneficial to members involved, as it enables sharing the industry information, access to information on job openings, and enables members of the network to offer support to each other in cases of challenges. Although the essay similarly highlights the shortcomings of using professional networking tools, the highlighted benefits clearly outweigh the existing shortcomings. The next section commences by discussing the probable benefits of professional networking.

Benefits of Professional Networking

Like any other group, professionals are always looking forward to build their networks, uncover relevant industry resources and find good career advice. One way of achieving all these goals, and more, is through becoming a member of professional network. The affiliation in professional networks does not only offer value to individuals, but should enhance, and maximize the performance of an individual to ultimately benefit the network. Certain networks have membership counts, ranging to thousands, and it is sometimes difficult to navigate through such numbers, especially with the manual means. However, the use of technology, such as emails and networking websites can help one to make considerable navigation through such large networks, and accrue benefits from the same (Tretenhahn, 2011).

Like anything else in life, getting maximal benefits from professional networking requires a member to put in as much as they want to get out of the network. Persons seeking to benefit from professional networks should ponder about the following concerns: what is an individual member hoping to accomplish? Is networking about furthering one’s career?.. and the professional objectives involved. These questions can help a member of a professional network to establish clear objectives, and greatly benefit in the long run. Professional networking has a number of direct and indirect benefits for persons.

Professional networking enables persons involved to share knowledge, and learn from each other as they interact and engage in constant dialogue (Factiva Institute, 2012). Specifically, there are two types of learning that happen in professional networking – intentional and serendipitous learning (Factiva Institute, 2012). On the one hand, intentional learning in networking happens when an individual is seeking for the specific information from other people within the network. On the other hand, serendipitous learning happens when an individual within a network gathers information that they initially had no knowledge of, and were unaware that they needed. Consequently, a broader network, and a larger intensity of dialogue is more likely to result in a greater likelihood of serendipitous taking place (Factiva Institute, 2012).

Usually, discussing individuals’ area of knowledge within, or outside their field, might help them to gain a wider perspective, and make key connections between subjects that individuals would otherwise not be able to generate on their own. Similarly, certain knowledge shared with others within the network may be beneficial to others. From a shallow point of view, one might think that they are the only individuals with rich experiences, or those with expertise and make valuable contributions to networks; this is, however, not always the case, as experienced and more knowledgeable people can also learn from people with fresh approaches in different fields.

Professional networking is also beneficial for assistance and support (Nierenberg, 2007). A support network for professionals can be essential for handling strains and stresses that are contrary to the work environment. Through receiving, and offering the support from the network circles, a member of a professional network can easily overcome challenges, as they profit from the experiences of other members of the circles. Several professionals who exist within networks understand that the notion of giving back usually has appeal and resonance. Others take it as their duty to promote fellow professionals in times of difficulties. For others still, supporting members of a professional network is a pleasure, as it renews their enthusiasm for their professions by exposing them to the energy of new entrants in their fields. For all, however, there is a feeling of victory, as other members of the network benefit from one’s wisdom and ability to help. More importantly, experienced members of a professional network often seek to act as mentors to those less experienced members, offering feedbacks and support to their mentees over the period of their developments.

Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn have been known to help members in career advancements and progression (Nierenberg, 2007). Certain information that members of these networks gather is useful when considering a career move. Members of a professional network can hear of career opportunities within their circles, which they would otherwise not access. Moreover, members of a professional network can have inside information of the day-to-day actualities of a given job specification, or they can understand and share the culture of a given workplace, which can help other members to make informed career decisions, rather than making blind decisions regarding jobs. In brief, interactions and dialogues with a professional network enable members to gain advanced warning of specific qualities, and abilities that are more likely to be appreciated by potential employers.

Networking clearly improves chances of an individual to learn and obtain certain career opportunities and positions (Factiva Institute, 2012). Personal recommendations are significant in professional and academic lives of individuals, while a professional competence of a person may be easy to ascertain from his or her curriculum vitae, it may be hard to assess interpersonal factors that have an impact on one’s future colleagues; factors, such as work style, attitudes, diplomacy and handling of stress among others. As a result, recruiters will often feel confident when recruit individuals whom they have interacted with, or those whom they have a good report of. A person whose networking is more likely to have his or her report exposed to more recruiters, with empirical evidence suggesting that the exposure confers a significant advantage to an individual (Factiva Institute, 2012). In brief, networking ensures that a potential employee’s abilities and talents are more widely known and readily appreciated by potential employers.

Benefits of professional networking can be similarly discussed with regards to a workplace. In most organizations today, rigid hierarchical and chain-of command bureaucracy are increasingly replaced by flatter decision making structures. The goal of most of these organizations is to encourage productivity and agility, while empowering their staff to engage in, and focus on success of their performances. Cross-functional activities and teams offer good opportunities for organizations to achieve the required performances and meet their objectives. Joining such networks at places of work implies more than just showing up for functions and activities. It implies active contributions, whether networking is through collaboration spaces, face-to-face meetings, webinars or even phone calls.

Through networking at work places, knowledge professionals are able to showcase their expertise, while making contributions to their teams, as they share their background information that is relevant to the mission of teams (Tretenhahn, 2011). In addition, networking in teams at workplaces enables members of the network to source for competitor information that can support decisions and recommendations within teams. Due to their benefits, professionals should strive to join professional networks in case one is not invited to join a network, but learns of its existence, and may be interested in making contributions towards the same, it is not wrong to ask to join. What one receives in return is an access to experience and divergent views of persons, whom they would otherwise not know if they never had professional networks at work places.

With regards to different professions, networking is cited as the main reason for joining professional associations (Tretenhahn, 2011). A number of organizations tend to employ fewer knowledge and information professionals, sometimes only one professional. As a result, these persons may want to build professional peer groups beyond their employing organizations. In such cases, not only do the interactions within the professional networks offer some sense of camaraderie, but the interactions also enable the members to exchange ideas, and success stories, and share solutions to different challenges that they are likely to face in their organizations.

Dimauro (2011) recommends that any person, who is not a member of a professional network, should find out any network that is most aligned to their career aspirations and join. Persons who are engaged in organizations that do not financially support networking, or temporarily unemployed individuals should all strive to join professional networks to be able to advance their professions. Apart from face-to-face meetings and conferences, there are several other means through which persons seeking to gain professional development can seek information for membership, including internet publications, internet membership directories and virtual learning events, among others. Speaking at conferences and serving on different committees, courtesy of professional networking, further develops an individual professionally; they develop leadership skills, and pursue personal growth within the community of professional colleagues.

Professional networking is relevant at all of the industry levels; such is the scenario of an employee in a given industry, who wants to deepen his/her career expertise, or to explore the possibility of moving into a different role within the industry (Dimauro, 2011). Where does such a person gather the relevant information to deepen career expertise within the industry, or expand to explore a different role within the professional field? Considering a return to academia is one viable option for such an individual, however, getting involved in professional networks that cover the individual’s industry can help in exposing different aspects of the industry; while simultaneously enabling expansion of one’s network into different directions.

Optimal gains require a member of a professional network to initiate communication with senior members of the network, and colleagues whom they respect to learn what they should consider as most relevant within their industries. For a professional working in a food company, for instance, there is a need to learn the networks that support the food and beverage industries for optimal gains. In addition, one should attempt to join professional networks that have the local, national and international scopes to enable expansive learning. Additionally significant is the focus of the network; focus on professional development, focus on research, advocacy, and marketing, among others. Focus allows members of the professional network to interact with persons from whom they can learn more about other aspects of the industry in which they are engaged (Dimauro, 2011).

Drawing optimal benefits from professional networks further requires an individual to utilize the principles of reciprocity and generosity. A member of a professional network can opt to volunteer to work on committees, or to perform certain administrative tasks that get them acquainted with the industry and work places, and help them establish relationships that enable their long-term advantages. Approachable and a pleasant demeanor, willingness to belong, and reliability with regards to participation in professional membership, makes it easier to quickly become a valued member of a professional group, enhancing maximal benefits from the groups.

Professional networking sites enable members to find alumni, a powerful tool that allows members of the network to gain access to opportunities and professional developments. In LinkedIn networking site, for instance, a member of the network can use the feature ‘Find Alumni’ to locate alumni; their geographical locations, the organizations they work for, their jobs and professions, and their current academic and professional achievements. Effective use of this feature in professional networking enable members of a network to gain knowledge of their former schoolmates, and what they do, sparking idea for professional collaborations.

Shortcomings of Professional Networking

While most of the benefits of professional networking seem obvious and self-explanatory, professional networking approaches do have some drawbacks. First, all members of a professional networking always face serious threats to violation of their privacy (Factiva Institute, 2012). Professional networking requires members of the network to update their profiles, revealing the organizations they work with, and other personal details to the thousands of other network members. A section of unscrupulous network members can take advantage of such information to financially exploit unsuspecting members.

Any information that a member of a professional network exposes provides a certain perception about them. Apparently information that is already exposed to the internet tends to stay, and spreads within relatively short periods, implying that companies and individuals may have their reputations affected within shorter times.
Given the trending nature of technology, professions are almost obliged to engage in professional networking. While most of the possibilities are no-doubt advantageous to the members, there is the risk of over-linking, which can result in disorientation and confusion, leading to more client contacts than a network’s member can manage. Consequently, all entities seeking to engage in professional networking must understand that professional networking must be done properly, requiring time and dedication. Moreover, professional networking must be based on proper research and effective maintenance, otherwise, networking can result in reserved effects to the networking members.

A brief case study of LinkedIn professional networking site given below magnifies some of the benefits an individual gets from membership of such networks.

Study of the Benefits and Shortcomings of LinkedIn as a Professional Networking Tool

LinkedIn is a powerful tool for professional networking, developed on the theory of six degrees of separation, implying that a member of LinkedIn site is connected to anyone else on the planet by no more than six degrees. The more connections one has on the LinkedIn site, the more professions in their connections, and the more exposure to professional opportunities. Despite only being a few years old, more than 300 million people use LinkedIn on a regular basis (Hempel, 2013).

More importantly, LinkedIn enhances member leveraging. For example, when a job seeker reaches out to a potential employer through a cold email, the first thing that the potential employer does is to check the profile of the job seeker via LinkedIn. The employer may want to understand who the job seeker is, and what they have done with their careers over the years. In case of absence of such a profile, or in case of an expired profile, a person is deemed to be a non-contributing member of their community. In brief, more hiring managers, decision makers, search committees and other involved professionals perform both complex and simple LinkedIn searches find candidates who suit different positions.

According to Hempel (2013), LinkedIn is one of the best sites for self-promotion of professionals in all industries. The website has different features that enable members to promote themselves on a genuine, appropriate and authentic way. Through the site, professionals can articulate their achievements, accomplishments, experiences, expertise, awards, pedigree and credentials via LinkedIn profiles, and through activities in LinkedIn groups.
There are specific features of LinkedIn that make it beneficial for members. Exhaustive utilization of these features works to the advantage of the network’s members. First, LinkedIn enables members of the network to create catchy headlines that introduce them to the world. The headlines, usually precise, enables a member of the network to elucidate what they can do for the community. Creativity within LinkedIn encourages other members of the network to want to learn more about an individual and relate with them.

The other notable feature of LinkedIn is the ability to choose more skills from the master list of skills, which matches other skills in the profile (Hempel, 2013). Effective use of this tool enables a member to network with others who have similar skills. In addition, skill listing tool is essential for leveraging, as it is an explicit avenue through which potential employers can spot a professional.

Importantly, LinkedIn allows its users to check out on visitors to their profiles. By checking on persons who viewed a member’s profile earlier, the member can leverage the activity as a way of reaching out to others. For instance, a member can use ‘Who Viewed Your Profile Feature’ to understand that a professional in the field of environmental science viewed his or her profile. With the member having interests and goals, it is easy to contact the person using LinkedIn email communication system, and book for the appointment to speak with the person via available conversation platforms, such as Skype. The intention of such meetings is to build a win-win partnership with other members; and this happens because one person started by looking at another member’s profile, and the other member takes advantage of the feature to know that other members of the network view their profiles. According to Hempel (2013), the ‘Who Viewed Your Profile’ feature has helped many members of the network to land jobs and other opportunities.

LinkedIn has a feature that enables members of the network to communicate their activities via an update on the web page. If a member wins an award, or wants to share an article, or would be speaking at a conference, and feels that members of the professional network can be interested, then they can post the event. If connected to other blogs and web pages, members are able to view all new postings, keeping them updated on what the member is up to. The sharing allows the professional member to permeate throughout the space, and enable connection with new arenas, or persons interested, and may want to engage a professional in future.

LinkedIn has a feature which enables its members to find connections (Hempel, 2013). The connections serve to help members network with the community. In this case, the objective of a member of the network should not be the number of connections, but to seek connections with whom a member can develop win-win relationships. After gaining membership in LinkedIn, a member can ask to be recommended or can recommend others.

Recommendations are usually powerful, and a great addition to an individual’s profile. It is important for a member to make private notes of the meetings and connections, which are discussed during the group interactions, and the nature of follow-up is required for the development to take place; LinkedIn has certain features that encourage all of this to happen.

Postings in groups are the other benefit that members of LinkedIn professional network draw from the features of the site. A joining network member has the freedom to gain membership of up to fifty groups. Groups are invaluable resources for any networking purposes, as they act as networking nodes, a feature that conglomerates likeminded individuals. If a group already has 25,000 professions in membership, a joining member immediately gets an access and exposure to all of these group members (Hempel, 2013). Members can then post articles, links, questions and papers that may interest members of the group, and contribute to conversations that occur in the groupings. Moreover, a new member has an opportunity to peruse membership of the group he or she joins, and can reach-out to individual members, and ask for formal conversations to explore the potential collaboration.

LinkedIn helps members of a network to search for jobs (Hempel, 2013). Professionals in different fields may always desire to access available opportunities when seeking for advancement in their careers. Admittedly, professionals seeking for job openings should spend most of their time on active networking, exploiting the job search features that are created in LinkedIn. Moreover, LinkedIn enables potential employers to list job openings; being a great way for a LinkedIn member to learn job openings that match their skills. LinkedIn’s members can easily identify jobs that are announced within their groupings, or search for jobs using the main search bar. It is significant to note that some employers only advertise jobs via LinkedIn (and other professional networking sites), prompting persons keen to advance their careers to keep on updating, and checking for jobs that members of the LinkedIn groups post on a daily basis.

In brief, members of LinkedIn networking gain more benefits than shortcomings through active use of the site. The site allows members to tap into the vast network of every professional, institution (including government agencies, universities and associations) and companies, sectors and the larger industry. Through LinkedIn, a member can follow all of these entities, and keep appraised of their activities, an important means of learning trends, networking and enhancing professional development.

Despite its enormous benefits to the members, there are a few cons for the users of LinkedIn as a professional networking site. One major disadvantage, for instance, is the way members of the network use LinkedIn as an advertising tool, with a slew of SPAM and pop-ups for the users. Secondly, LinkedIn only works best once it is established; before its establishment, LinkedIn requires more personal time, work and sacrifice to build, to get the needed connections, and to get conversations flowing. Users constantly ask other members to introduce them to the entities they are interested in connecting with, a process that can be cumbersome at times. Ideally, LinkedIn is a platform for professional connections and conversations, but these intended functions may be breached by masquerading the individuals who intend to financially fleece unsuspecting members of the network. Nevertheless, LinkedIn is a significant platform for the professional development of the members.

Conclusion

At the core of this discussion are the benefits and shortcomings of professional networking. The discussion evidently suggests that professional networking has more benefits, as opposed to a handful of shortcomings. Professional networking brings people together, educates them, informs, and supports them. Through the continuous information flow on industry, careers and professions, professional networking tools enable members to benefit from the concomitant advantages of networking. Through evaluation of goals and objectives, and through conducting of professional researches via systematic approaches, professional networking enables members to change the nature of future events. However, individuals participating in any professional network must take certain precautions to avoid the risk of identity manipulations.