Social networks are on the edge of their popularity. They have changed the way people see things in almost every sphere of everyday life. Social networking tools are considered as powerful mechanisms able to influence the way people work and socialize (Noxon, 2011, p. 36). Professional networking is an important aspect of building up a career in any field. Traditional forms of professional networking, such as joining different organizations and associations, give way to modern Web sources offering numerous professional networking services. Online professional networking allows participating in professional activities and meeting high-qualified specialists. That is particularly beneficial for people living in remote areas with no access to well-developed professional networking. While traditional professional networking remains an essential part of building up a career, online professional networking services are gaining huge popularity as they offer a wide range of unique and helpful services. Both advantages and disadvantages of professional networking should be considered by a specialist eager to find the most appropriate method of establishing contacts with colleagues within the professional community.
What is Professional Networking?
Networking itself is establishing relationships with people and learning more about their jobs and career experiences. Networking plays an essential role in developing a strong professional identity and encouraging professional development (Bodell & Hook, 2011, p. 588). Professional networking is aimed at giving and receiving information, contacts, and referrals in a pro-active and reactive way (Vermeiren, 2007, p. 26). Nowadays, professional networking is usually associated with Web sources, which present the profiles of different specialists, who have a job or are currently looking for it. Besides, such sources allow using additional services, such as hosting of presentations and videos, questions-and-answers service, and subject blogs and communities.
The most famous professional networking sites include LinkedIn (LinkedIn, 2015), Viadeo (Viadeo, 2015), and XING (XING, 2015). Alternatives to the most famous services include Opportunity (Opprtunity, 2015) and Meetup (Meetup, 2015).
Effective usage of professional networking services acquires knowledge of basic rules of business etiquette, skills in building and maintaining connections with people, having your elevator pitch, etc.
Advantages of Professional Networking
Professional networking is the core foundation for the continuous development of skills and gaining new up-to-date knowledge by specialists in different areas. Professional networking allows meeting people, who can contribute to making progress in your career and always staying in touch with specialists able to share valuable information about the trends in your professional area. Professional networking is aimed at meeting the key influencers in your professional community (Hodges, 2012, p. 8). The relationships established between the specialists can benefit each of them.
Besides offering career opportunities, professional networking is a perfect chance to master social skills and gain new knowledge about best practices in your professional community. While establishing contacts with different specialists, the person masters communication skills and shares experience with other specialists. Professional networking helps to follow up on the latest trends and stay on the edge of innovations.
The main advantage of online professional networking services lies in the innovative system of communication they offer. The conventional Web sites offer catalogs of vacancies and lists of CVs of applicants searching for a job. The applicant cannot communicate with the person offering a job directly. He/she can just see the vacancy and leave the CV to be considered by the potential employer. Lack of direct communication is the main drawback of such Web Sites. Professional networking services offer an opportunity to communicate easily and effectively. The employer can add the potential employee to friends and see the changes in the employee’s professional activity (e.g. changes in job status, educational background, place of living, etc.). Besides, the users can send messages to each other and always check the history of correspondence if needed.
Another advantage of professional networking services is their determination to encourage the users to be involved in the process of creation of the content of the Web sites. The users can add information about the finished projects, give recommendations to other users, answer questions, etc.
High competency in the market of professional networking services encourages companies to strive for the better delivery of services and constantly search for effective innovations and appropriate solutions.
Drawbacks of Professional Networking
If organized properly, professional networking is supposed to bring only benefits to its participants. However, each form of organization of professional networking is associated with some disadvantages.
Traditional professional networking, organized in the forms of meetings and acquiring joining different organizations, can be considered inefficient by some specialists. Such networking gives limited opportunities as most people communicate only with the specialists they know personally. Communicating only with the members of the local professional community makes it impossible to share experience and gain new knowledge by establishing contacts with specialists from different regions and countries. This negative tendency influences the competence of specialists, who live in remote areas and do not have contacts with the leading specialists, recognized in the whole world.
While online professional networking services deal with the mentioned problem easily, they also have some drawbacks. People usually regard the abundance of SPAM as one of the main disadvantages of the Web sites delivering such type of services. Like any other social network, online professional networks cannot protect the users from SPAM completely. Another drawback of online professional networking services is the plenty of time needed to learn how to use the Web sources most efficiently. It is not an easy job for a newbie to get connections and start conversations. Getting the skills of communication in professional networking acquires much time and effort.
LinkedIn as the Pioneer and the Leader in Online Professional Networking
LinkedIn is a social network, which has become a leader in providing professional networking services. The history of this Web source dates back to 2002 when Reid Hoffman created the network consisting of four profiles. In one month, the project was converted into a professional network with four thousand profiles. In 2003, the owners officially launched the network. Nowadays the number of its users includes more than 350 million people. The users of this network come from more than two hundred countries. Most profiles are owned by users from the United States, the home country of the network, Europe, and India, famous for its IT specialists.
The network offers great opportunities for creating a unique well-developed CV. There is a system of feedback, which can be given by specialists from your professional network. Other users can confirm your competency in the skills indicated in your CV. There is also an opportunity for indicating the professional literature the user reads, the educating programs he/she watches, etc. The users can upload projects they worked on and indicate their partners or coworkers. All of these functions contribute to the creation of an impressive CV, which covers all aspects of the user’s professional activity and skills.
LinkedIn offers a great range of networking services. There are owners of the companies, top managers, and leading high-qualified specialists among the users of the network. An opportunity to establish contacts with an unlimited number of professionals, add them to your professional network of contacts, and follow up the updates of their profiles is one of the main advantages of LinkedIn. Using this network, you can easily communicate with the best specialists from any part of the world.
Other Respectful Professional Networking Sites
Viadeo is the second-largest international professional social network. The number of its users includes more than 60 million people. It was created by Dan Serfaty and Thierry Lunati in France in 2004. Users of Viadeo are entrepreneurs, managers, and specialists working in various organizations. Viadeo offers a wide range of opportunities for the development of career and business, searching for contacts and employees, and self-representation in the professional environment. The main distinctive feature, which distinguishes Viadeo from LinkedIn, is the orientation towards occupying leading positions in non-English speaking countries. Viadeo focuses on the development of its services for the users in Europe and the countries of BRICS. Viadeo continues buying smaller companies in such countries as India and China to gain a large audience.
XING is a business-orientated professional social network used for searching and managing professional and personal contacts. The number of its users includes nearly 9 million people (XING is the social network for business professionals, n.d., par. 1). It was founded by Lars Hinrichs as OPEN Business Club AG in Hamburg in 2003. The network is mostly popular among German-speaking users from the countries of the DACH region. XING supports a multilingual interface and offers a wide range of functions. The network has a special Ambassador program. Ambassadors, the official representatives of the company, hold local meetings of the members of the network. These meetings are aimed at promoting social networking as a tool for establishing professional connections and exchanging ideas. This program is a perfect example of successful and efficacious professional networking.
Opportunity is a network that uses a scientific approach to bringing professionals together. It was founded by Janis Krums and Bill Jula in New York in 2013. The network helps the users to find necessary information by using appropriate data points. The data points include locations, industry types, skills, etc.
Meetup is a social networking portal useful for establishing both professional and personal contacts. It was founded by Scott Heiferman in New York in 2002. The number of its members includes more than 20 million people from 181 countries (About Meetup, n.d., par. 4). The Web site offers an opportunity for facilitating offline group meetings.
Professional networking is a “long-term game”, which involves the participation of two or more players (Vermeiren, 2007, p. 27). Both offline and online networking has a great potential for promoting effective and beneficial communication between specialists in different professional areas. To find the most appropriate method of establishing contacts with colleagues, the person should learn about the advantages and disadvantages of professional networking.
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