Career Solutions: It's Who You Know

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A well-engineered network of professional contacts provides the structural support to build a logistics career with potential for expansion.

The word "logistics" brings several images and concepts to mind: collaboration with partners, supply chain optimization, on-time delivery, and networking.

Successful logistics professionals must be able to create an effective network capable of moving products from one location to another—be it down the street, across the country, or around the globe—where they can provide greater value or return.

Without an effective network, a supply chain would cease to function properly.

Your career is no different. You've developed yourself as a "product" with unique knowledge, capabilities, skills, and talents. You want to deliver that product to the customer who not only needs it, but can derive the greatest value and contribution from it. It's up to you to ensure the product gets there.

Establishing a network of individuals who can be of service to you will help your career progress in the right direction. They're the ones who supply you with information that not everyone has access to. They're capable of putting in a good word for a project you're championing, and they'll keep you in mind for future assignments.

Additionally, they're likely able to help you better define talents, skills, and abilities that will be most valuable to your future boss.

Getting Started

Chances are, you're part of a significant logistics network and you're not even aware of it. Think about how you got to where you are today. Many of us started our careers while we were in school, where we formed relationships we still maintain.

After we were hired for our first jobs, we started meeting people who had been in the logistics business for several years and knew the ropes—people who could share valuable industry knowledge.

We also made friends with other newbies, and continued to make connections as we, and our colleagues, changed positions within our organizations. Each contact we've made through these transitions has the potential to be in our personal network.

Have you ever received a surprise phone call from a former colleague or bumped into someone you used to work with while running errands? You spend a few minutes chatting about the old days and almost certainly walk away with a grin thinking about those times. Why not be the person to take the initiative and make that first contact?

You may wonder, "What do I say when I make such a call?"

Whatever you do, don't cut to the chase too quickly with "Do you have a job available for me?" or "I need help with this!" If you start the conversation this way, you're likely to sound opportunistic or, even worse, desperate.

A good idea is to take a step back and remove yourself from any immediate or pressing concerns. Then ask, "I've been pondering this question. What do you think? Do you know anyone who can help me achieve this?"

With this approach, you show that you value the opinion of the person you've contacted. That's sure to make him or her more inclined to help you than if you just make demands.

Next Steps:

Develop specific career-related goals.

Where do you see your career heading? Without a roadmap for its direction, you'll have little chance of moving forward, let alone achieving your goals.

Imagine that you've sourced components from a supplier, and you specify those parts be sent to the factory. Upon receipt, what's the probability of those parts making it to the correct location within the factory if they aren't properly identified?

Taking the "shotgun" approach to your career aspirations is analogous to the haphazard shipment of parts. They may or may not get to the right destination internally—or on time and within budget.

In other words, you can't leave this critical decision to chance; you have to take control of where your product (you) is headed.

Once your career-related goals are clearly defined, take the next step and create a plan for achieving them.

Include specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based (SMART) metrics to measure when you expect to achieve this goal, who is in a position to be most effective in helping you, and what exactly your goal is—a promotion, an educational degree or certificate, or a company-sponsored honor or level of excellence.

Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but with a little practice, you're likely to improve dramatically.

Update, maintain, and enhance your network continually.

There are many opportunities to make new contacts. When you attend meetings or conferences, set a goal to meet two new people.

Ask questions that convey a genuine interest in their skills, abilities, and talents, and they'll be sure to remember you. Even though people you meet may not have a direct connection or association with your business, they may know someone who can be an asset to your network.

Dedicate a set amount of time to engage in activities oriented toward enhancing your network. For something as important as your career, two hours per week isn't unreasonable.

Know what's in your personal toolkit.

A critical component to networking is knowing what you bring to the table and can provide to others. When was the last time you updated your resume?

This important document may be your only opportunity to clearly and concisely communicate your value to others, particularly hiring managers. If you haven't updated your resume recently, figure out why, with honesty and forthrightness.

For example, what was your last resume-worthy activity or achievement? Many of us scramble to update our resumes only when a career event—good or bad—occurs.

We find ourselves unprepared, trying to remember what we've accomplished, and end up forgetting the professional training, recognition, and accomplishments that might help us stand out from the crowd.

It takes a little extra effort, but it's always easier to record activities as they occur and edit them later than try to remember achievements over an extended time.

Embrace lifelong learning.

Technology is continually changing and expanding the threats and opportunities all businesses confront. Once you've identified your knowledge, skills, abilities, and talents, objectively compare them with your career targets and requisite competencies.

Attending seminars, conferences, or courses offered by your employer or a local college or university allows you to not only gain exposure to new technologies and their applications, but also enables you to meet people who share common interests—ideal for your network.

Take advantage of networking opportunities.

A growing number of companies recognize the benefits of peer-to-peer networking and promote such events. Often, these events are not specifically geared to logistics or supply chain management professionals, but may be oriented on the basis of employee length of service, gender, ethnicity, or other demographic factors.

Regardless of their basis, what matters is making contacts with and getting to know individuals who can assist you when you need support or can provide knowledge and guidance on specific topics.

Know the key movers and shakers in logistics.

Who are the people moving up the logistics hierarchy? People love to be acknowledged for their achievements. Why not send a congratulatory card recognizing someone's milestone?

Because such an acknowledgement occurs so infrequently, you'll surely be remembered kindly—and kindness is often reciprocated.

Making It Work

Maybe you've already started building a network but wonder how you can make it more effective. The key to making the network work to your advantage is keeping it maintained and well-oiled.

After receiving a phone call or meeting a new person, keep relevant notes. Include the date of contact, key take-aways from the conversation, as well as ancillary material such as family and hobby information that will allow you to reconnect at some future point.

With computers allowing for a centralized data collection point, there's no reason such information should ever get lost.

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