Volunetworking: Volunteer first, reap the networking benefits later

26 Jan 2014 12:14 AM | Deleted user
I was recently asked about my volunteer experience with APICS and what benefits I saw in it.  In my response, I focused on two broad benefits: one, that APICS volunteers have the ability to make their experience what they want it to be, and two, that your APICS network creates serendipitous connections that can help when you least expect them to.  I think too often, people come to APICS dinner meetings a few times in a row, hoping to network their way to a job in short time.  While I know that has happened, it's certainly not the norm, and I'd hate to mislead anyone into thinking otherwise.  On the flip side, I know there are lot of people out there who went to a meeting once or twice, but didn't see a direct benefit immediately, and have stopped coming to meetings.  So why do some people stick with APICS for decades and volunteer their time while others let it slip their minds?

Like many things especially in the education realm, I think APICS falls into the category of "you get out of it what you put into it."  APICS is a big, broad organization with many functions and needs, but also flexibility to make it what you want.  It's not just a certifying institute, but a living, breathing organization that needs things like marketing, finance, and IT solutions.  It is also an educational organization, so it needs instructors.  So if you want to work on specific skills that you don't use enough in your day job, say accounting, website development, or public speaking, APICS may be one avenue you can utilize to hone those skills.  And it doesn't have to be all about your skills: if you want to go on more plant tours, you can volunteer for Programs and help select and arrange the plant tours.  There are so many volunteer opportunities, big and small, that you can certainly contribute and make APICS your own.  This, I think, is the more tangible, immediate return on your time.

The serendipity comes in after multiple volunteer experiences and ongoing networking.  I think the best way to explain it is with examples.  At one time, I had my eye on a specific company that I wanted to move to, and applied to a number of jobs I thought I could do, even though I lacked some of the experience in the job descriptions.  I actually got the interview for one job, not because of my resume or LinkedIn profile, but because the hiring manager had been my student in an APICS CPIM certification course.  In fact, he and his lead employee were both previously in my class, and they had recognized my name and gave me a shot at the position even though they really wanted someone with the experience I didn't have.  For another example, when I was interviewing for the company I now work for, I didn't even realize I had two APICS connections at the company and within the group I was interviewing for.  I'm not exactly sure how the hiring manager learned of these connections, I'm guessing maybe through connections on LinkedIn, but she ended up asking both people if they would recommend me, and they did!  One had actually known me through a mutual connection at APICS Tucson, and one I had met at an APICS PDM.  Now, I'll be the first to admit that not all companies seek out individuals with APICS certifications, but all companies prefer internal recommendations, especially on a person they are looking to hire from outside the company.  To me, that is the real power of APICS and networking.

But it doesn't happen overnight.  What good is handing out your business cards if the people you are handing them to don't actually know what you're capable of?  Building your credibility takes time.  By volunteering just an hour a month, you can have an impact on your APICS Chapter that then reflects highly on what you can bring to the table.  When you volunteer, you don't always know who sees your actions that may be able to help you out in the future, but people do notice, and those people might just be your next boss or the internal referral you need to get your foot in the door.


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