Your supply chain network is an incredibly valuable resource throughout your career. You may have heard someone say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that makes a difference”. Actually, it’s both. The point is to emphasize that everyone can learn some of the principles of supply chain, but in the end, it is groups of people that solve supply chain problems, together. Every encounter is an opportunity for supply chain networking and to learn from others and possibly make a connection that can serve you both going forward.

Your network, at its most basic, is everyone you know. You also know that there are deeper relationships and connections with some people than others. Your supply chain network is one in which you maintain contacts for mutual benefit, possibly both personal and professional. It is both a give and a take. Don’t just be a gatherer of contacts and call it a network. You have to provide the care and feeding of your network, like a garden, to keep it producing.

Supply chain networking is all about learning how to recognize the opportunities to engage and make them potential lifelong valuable relationships. It is a valuable skill and art that you need to practice early and often. Use the sections below to up your game.

Where Are the Supply Chain Networking Opportunities?

Every time you take a class and talk with a classmate, you have an opportunity to build a networking relationship. Every team project. Every conversation with a professor. Every time you discuss what you are studying in school with a friend of a family member and they say, “Oh sure, I am in supply chain”, or they say, “I know someone in supply chain”, there is an opportunity to expand your supply chain network. Every time you go to a supply chain club event or presentation. Every time you attend a career fair. Every time you read a thought-provoking article about a subject you have researched. These are all opportunities to talk further with a person, ask questions about their interests, establish mutual interests, and keep connecting as time goes by and you are each expanding your own networks. Not every encounter can or should result in a network connection, but be more aware of the ability to be of benefit to each other going forward.

Networks for Problem Solving

You may be in school to learn supply chain and get the recognition that you are a graduate of an accredited program. By paying tuition, school provides you with a purchased collection of experts who share their knowledge and challenge you to perform and measure that performance with feedback and grades. What about after you leave school? You will have supervisors that will challenge you with assignments and measure your ability to solve problems. What does this have to do with networking? You as an individual can only do so much on your own. You learn by the connections you make. Sometimes the independent study of articles, blog posts, and presentations can be enough to solve some problems. Quite often, it is when you discuss problems with others that they can help you work through the issues and challenge you to think differently. Network connections may have dealt with or seen someone else deal with a problem. The network connections broaden your ability to sense opportunities and make them part of your and your organization’s problem-solving capabilities.

Networks for Job and Business Opportunities

Supply chains themselves are often called “Demand Networks” because it is like a huge interconnected web of resources that are capable of creating products and services and making them available worldwide. Your network is like an interconnected web of people seeing developments take place and learning how to take advantage of opportunities. The more people you connect to, the greater your ability to find new business opportunities, both for your current position and the next.

It is easy to just continue working in a position and continuously learning to up your game for your current employer. Your conversations with others will lead to unforeseen opportunities that may actually lead you to your next position. Sometimes circumstances at your current company lead to positions, entire departments, or even divisions being eliminated. At times like these, your network is invaluable. You can reach out and explain your situation to your network and you will be amazed at the range of advice you get, if not specific leads to open positions or needs.

Tactics for Continued Network Building While in School

  • Talk more with people in your classes. Study together. Talk over issues. Get together for meals or drinks now and then. Maintain connections after classes are over and after graduation.
  • Seek out more team-based projects. Working with team members toward goals is an exercise that you should pursue as much as possible. If you naturally like to lead, occasionally become a role player and see how others lead. You might learn something. If you are a natural follower, try challenging yourself by becoming more of a leader in a project or two. The experience will be valuable, even if you go back to the follower role more times than not. Keep connecting with team members after projects are over.
  • Have conversations with professors about their work and advice for getting better at their specialty in supply chain. Learn about their career paths and connections to the industry. Ask if it is possible to connect with their connections.
  • Join a supply chain or other clubs and don’t just sit and listen at events. Talk with others, ask questions. Engage. Volunteer. Talk with guest speakers and seek their advice about career paths. Connect with them long after events are over.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity to visit facilities or businesses when the classes or clubs provide them. Again, talk with the hosts, ask them about what they do and their backgrounds. Connect after the trip is over.
  • Talk with career services about your interest in talking with professionals in your industry. They may know of volunteers or business people that enjoy working with students.
  • Assign yourself reading about supply chain topics in trade magazines or blogs. If an author has topics or ideas that are of great interest to you, then reach out and tell them. These may also turn into long-term relationships over shared interests.
  • Start a LinkedIn account, keep it as professional as possible, and keep it fresh with not just your current position, but as much as you can share (take care about sharing too much about your employer’s proprietary work) about projects you have worked on and the kind of responsibilities you took on, plus the results. Occasionally post an article about interests you have, interesting ideas, and projects. Join groups that are active in areas of interest to you and sign up for automatic notices. Companies often check out the social media presence of candidates, so use it to your advantage.

Care and Feeding of Your Network

Making a connection and just setting it aside is almost as bad as having never made it at all. It is good to periodically review your connections, reprioritize them, and establish a schedule to reach out and have a conversation to keep the connection fresher. You typically both appreciate the opportunity. Make sure you share and find out about things you have each done and interesting work or interests that you can share. You each continue to grow.

Also, keep track of network growth and strength of connections to make sure you are continuing to improve. Since this is one of your greatest strengths, along with what skills you have personally developed, it is like an investment in your future, similar to your time in school.

For more information on Supply Chain Networking, click here!