Why do so many people not bother to network? I don't mean attend an occasional luncheon — I mean build long-term relationships and work to maintain them. No one should be so busy that they aren't thinking about their next step.
“It's a huge problem,” agrees Dawn Penfold of the Meeting Candidate Network, a meeting industry recruitment firm in New York. “My first three jobs in this industry all came to be through networking. I call it a person's ‘social capital’ — who they know is so important.”
If you only had time to take three steps to network yourself into this industry, I'd say the first is to get involved with the local chapter of your industry association. I'm still in touch with my fellow Meeting Professionals International/New England committee members, with whom I worked to revamp our annual meeting years ago. If you're on the sales and marketing side, Sales & Marketing Executives International has a strong local presence in more than 20 cities, where it frequently holds monthly breakfasts.
Scott Bickford, CEO of Air Planning LLC, told me one of the reasons that he started a New England chapter for the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (which kicks off this month) was not only to help members meet colleagues and customers, but also because “the perfect job is often one that doesn't involve relocating, and local events are a great way to find out about career opportunities.”
My next suggestion, if you're a planner: Sign onto one of the meeting industry's Web chat groups, such as MeCo (MeCo@googlegroups.com), or MiForum (MiForum@googlegroups.com), where Penfold is very visible. There are chats like this in most industries; a friend of mine in human resources just found a job through a similar group. “I don't think I would have heard about it any other way,” she told me. She had previously e-mailed the person who hired her about another issue, so there was already a virtual relationship. And this person had seen her occasional posts, so it was almost as if he knew her. It's a powerful networking tool.
Finally, do something to connect yourself with an elite group of peers, whether it's getting your certification (see page 96), serving on an advisory board, or leading a committee for your local MPI chapter. I was surprised to see that only 373 people have earned MPI's Global Certification in Meeting Management (CMM) in an industry that numbers in the tens of thousands — but it all comes back to people not taking the time to build their credentials and connections.
“Most of the time, people don't start networking until they're out of a job,” Penfold says of the many candidates who knock on her door. “By then, it's too late.”
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