Read any book or article on the topic of career management strategy, and it is likely they will advocate for networking as a powerful tool. Done correctly, networking provides an opportunity for you to be seen, become known and potentially gain information on career opportunities that are not necessarily in the public domain.

Networking can include membership in relevant industry associations, attendance at events and relevant trade shows, volunteer work and activity on professional social media platforms. This sounds straightforward; however, in today’s environment it is increasingly critical that you scrutinize, evaluate and choose the activities in which you will invest time with the goal of boosting your public-facing exposure.

Take into consideration you are also representing your employer’s brand and reputation by virtue of your position and affiliation details. This is especially relevant if your company is supporting your participation. If so, it is incumbent on you to know and be able to state how these activities benefit your organization.

There are hundreds of professional associations and events to choose from. Within the security industry, a proliferation of new ones seemed to surface monthly during the past few years. Selecting amongst these groups can be a challenge, and it is important to know that many are for-profit business activities with a focus on collecting your – and your organization’s – information.

As you plan your networking strategy, I offer the following suggestions to take into personal and professional consideration prior to investment of your time, resources and organizational budget:

  • What is the purpose of the activity and how substantive is it? Will it aid in your personal development and support your current role, or is the schedule filled with numerous social events and the venue utilized noted mostly for holidays and gatherings?
  • What are the roles and position levels of other attendees with whom you will likely interact? Consider that high numbers of participants are not always a good metric if the function is an overall mismatch to your objectives or needs.
  • If it is an educational course or event, are the sponsors and key presentation participants recognized and well regarded beyond organizational names and titles? Are they serial presenters consistently on the circuit, or are they true subject matter experts?
  • How will your information and affiliation with your organization be utilized? Is your participation being leveraged as a marketing tool?

While it is reasonable to see event advertisements that display agendas and speakers, others utilize your attendee data to market themselves. If you see a long list of attendee names, titles and organizations, be wary. It does not mean these agencies or companies necessarily support, endorse or even know about the event. Another indicator is the presence of company logos. With the occasional exception of sponsorships, most organizations expressly forbid use of their logos to market events that are not their own.

  • Does the organizer comply with legal and regulatory privacy issues pertaining to the control and protection of personal data?
  • Who are the owners and leadership of the event, and what is their individual history and reputation? We have tracked one event organizer that changes their company name every few years to create the impression of being current. Other companies have created secondary businesses to run events that are essentially intelligence operations for their primary interest.
  • Be very cautious about accepting free attendance for events that others must pay to attend. Clearly understand why you are not being charged and determine if this is counter to your agency or organization’s ethics and business conduct guidelines.
  • If you choose to participate in any social media, open forum, blogs or the like, be cautious, careful and circumspect about what you ask, comment or question. While a potential opportunity for positive exposure, it is also an opportunity to set forth an impression that – like the internet – will be indexed and found for years to come.
  • How often do you want to be seen either in attendance, speaking or appearing on panels at events? There are those who develop reputations as “professional networkers” due to the sheer number of events and media platforms they are seen on. You do not want people to wonder who is actually doing the work in your organization due to your perpetual absence.

Networking is a valuable tool to learn, expand professional relationships and grow your security career. It can help you affect change in your current job and provide exposure if your goal is to make a career change. Identify your networking goals, do your due diligence on your options and use the activity wisely.