PurchasingB2B

Buyer Beware


June 20, 2011
by Katherine Risley

PURCHASINGB2B MAGAZINE: MAY 2011

In any profession, networking is important for personal and professional development. We network to heighten our own visibility, meet others in our profession, stay abreast of developments in our field, find employment (or employees) and assess our own skill set against others in the marketplace. In the ever-developing world of procurement, networking has become increasingly important. As procurement becomes a more visible part of organizations, those in the profession connect with their peers to benchmark practices, conduct market analysis and discover innovative ideas.

There are many forums available for networking. Over the last few years, online networking tools such as LinkedIn have become extremely prevalent. Online networking offers an easy way to connect with your colleagues, peers, suppliers and others who are relevant to your professional life. Networking and information sharing should be encouraged; however, you should be sensible and even cautious about how you go about networking online. Many of my clients and candidates have recently reported some of the negative sides of networking. Let’s discuss some areas to watch out for, how to protect yourself and how to use networking strategically.

The first issue is the information available to those you have not actively connected with. Aside from the connections you choose to make, others who are two to three times removed from you are able to gain access to you and those in your network. If you are not careful about who you connect to, or the amount of information you allow others to view, you are leaving an open door for head-hunters and competitors to not only find you, but also your peers and your staff.

Secondly, there are a number of groups that have become available on LinkedIn that many of us join to share information and get updates on industry news. These groups can be relevant to our jobs; but one has to remember those who are not our direct connections can also view our group associations. This can become an issue if you are employed and looking for work, as your employer will likely be able to see that you have joined certain job searching forums.

Thirdly, LinkedIn allows you to introduce one of your connections to another. As your connections can see who you are networked with, they may feel it would be beneficial to have you introduce them. In the days before online networking, you would have generated this type of introduction. Today, depending on how networked you are, this online request for an introduction can happen quite frequently. Such an introduction can’t happen without your permission. However, it can put you in an uncomfortable position if you don’t feel the introduction is appropriate.

Finally, if you’re going to use an online site like LinkedIn, you want to ensure it reflects you in the best light. Some users of online professional networking fall into the habit of using it as a medium like Facebook, where every thought is recorded. Remember that your profile is viewable by a large number of people, so potential employers, business partners and managers will be taking a look at it; and may judge you based on what you have posted.

Mitigating the risks of LinkedIn is as simple as developing a few of your own networking rules. Make sure you have a clear vision of what you are looking to gain from any form of networking. The question always to ask is, “what will I get out of this relationship? Perhaps not instant gratification, but will it be worthwhile eventually?” If the answer is no, then perhaps it is not a network connection worth cultivating. If someone asks you to connect them to someone in your network, consider first how this will reflect on you, and perhaps only do so if you would have picked up the phone and made a personal introduction yourself.

You may want to only connect to those who have something to offer you in return. Networking is a two-way street, and you may want to limit yourself to connecting to those with whom it makes sense professionally to do so, and to those that can help you in your career (for example, senior staff in your industry and recruiters you have met and trust.)

When you are considering joining a LinkedIn group, join them if they are relevant to your business and will add value. Ensure you know who set up the group, and consider what it is that they are trying to achieve in doing so. Anyone else who has joined that particular group now has access to your details, so you want to make sure you feel it makes professional sense.

Finally, you have the ability to change the privacy settings of your LinkedIn site and adjust the amount of information that is shown to others based on your comfort level and situation. If you’re a manager, you may want to have a higher privacy setting so competitors can’t headhunt your staff. If you’re looking for work, you will want to have a fairly open profile so potential employers can find you.

Ultimately, online networking is an excellent tool and when used wisely it can open doors and connect you to people you may not have had the opportunity to network with otherwise. Just make sure you’re using it, not the other way around. b2b

Katherine Risley is the Division Manager for Hays Procurement (a division of Hays Specialist Recruitment) located in their Toronto office. You can reach her at krisley@hays.ca.