Expanding Your Professional Network

To Lunch or Not to Lunch?

A few years ago I stopped accepting business lunch invitations. I know people are encouraged by career coaches, counselors, friends, family and self-help guides to invite professionals to lunch in order to forge a new relationship. However, the tactics involved tend to be one person picking another person’s brain in an attempt to receive in a short period of time what takes years to build both professionally and inter-personally.

Over the past 12 months I have probably had 6 professional lunches, so I have not completely ruled them out, but below are the criteria that I use to determine whether to lunch or not. For those who may not understand why so much thought goes into this endeavor, please equate a lunch meeting to about 3 hours of your time. Whether you work for yourself or for an organization consider what has to be moved aside to meet for that lunch; as well as the fact that for the most part this lunch is not something you are directly being financially compensated for…it could lead to opportunities but it may not.

In my experience, professional lunches only work when they are mutually beneficial. Below is a description of the preferred type of professional lunch.

  1. Lunch with a Psychiatrist or mutual referral source. In some instances, two parties want to meet each other for the same purpose. That is always a good idea (if you are available).
  2. Getting together with a colleague or colleagues who I have not seen in a long time but perhaps once worked alongside, admired and forged a friendship. This has the benefit of stress reduction and burnout prevention.
  3. Getting together with a peer or peers with whom I share a mutual interest about the state of the profession and who have power, authority or interest in leadership within the profession.
  4. Lunch with a colleague that I just met at a conference or workshop. Typically, this is someone who I would have felt drawn to organically and they to me by way of proximity or one of us said or shared something interesting. *I don’t have lunch with colleagues when I am presenting at a conference because I use lunch as a break. Some presenters will meet with attendees over lunch.
  5. Lunch with a neighbor in my professional building. Someone who is in the field or a related field and a circumstance where we both would like to get to know one another.
  6. Breakfast or lunch with someone or several people from an organization who are interested in hiring me for training, consulting or coaching services.

There are probably other times when a professional lunch is a good way to expand your network or maintain connections, however I have listed the ones that stand out to me the most.

Lunch Request from a Cold Call or Unsolicited Unknown Party via E-mail

I do not recommend that you contact people for lunch that you do not know nor have had any occasion to have met. In my experience these type of requests are well intended but are not on their face very respectful of one’s time or expertise.

If the person requesting the lunch is seeking information from a more knowledgeable party, a more ideal way to approach them would be at a professional event that they are attending or hosting. This is a time that individual has set aside to engage with new colleagues. Even though there may be other people trying to get face time with them as well, just by being there you have radically increased your opportunity to meet many other professionals and you can spend time interacting with them.

Please know that when you invite someone to lunch who is a solo-preneur or an entrepreneur, that person is being asked to prioritize the needs and interests of a virtual stranger over their vast daily obligations and responsibilities.

Now to every rule there is an exception: Some people may take you up on that lunch offer. Notice, I am using the term offer. That suggests that you have invited them to lunch and intend to pay for the lunch. In this context, if that is not your intent then you should not ask.

Other Ways to Expand Your Professional Network

First and foremost you must attend to the professional relationships that you have already cultivated. It is also important to develop, maintain and sustain professional relationships with those you meet at your various work and academic settings.

Please note that I am not calling them “jobs”  but rather “work settings.”  In mental health, if you are licensed or seeking a license…what you have is a career. Wherever you go, you have that professional designation. It is not beneficial to talk and think in terms of jobs. It is most beneficial to consider yourself and your experiences as happening in various settings. Each experience and setting gives you an opportunity to grow and expand professionally.

You will meet people along the way and it is important that you acknowledge them. Simple things like saying hello and goodbye and being cordial. It is not vital that you become friends with everyone you meet. That is not necessarily sincere. But it is important that you don’t think of your work settings as being devoid of interpersonal meaning and value.

It’s okay to be shy, private or somewhat introverted. However, it is not okay to be isolated, withdrawn and unknown to your peers.

Lastly, you can and should expand your professional network by attending and participating in live events where people gather in person. While relationships might be maintained and cultivated at a distance with the occasional e-mail, they are more meaningful when at some point both parties have been in one another’s physical presence.

I think technology and social media have become a wonderful outlet for connecting with new peers and staying connected with those I already know. However, when I get to meet someone in person their actual identity in the real world stands out more to me even when I might later interact with them in the virtual or electronic domain.

Technology may provide us with support. But we still have to create, form and expand our professional networks by way of good old fashioned meet-and-greets if we want them to have staying power over the long haul… One in-person contact is enough to build a foundation for future correspondence.

Thanks for being a reader of my blog…this is one of the ways that I stay in touch with my network. Happy networking to you all!

Copyright © 2017 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.

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