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Golden Guide Career Advice: Build a Professional Ecosystem

Lydia Lazar

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Golden Tip No. 6: You Join an Ecosystem of Opportunity by Communicating with People

Golden Guide Career Advice is a new series from the AMA in partnership with Lydia Lazar, author of Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People. A new tip in the series will be posted each Tuesday—all tips are available here.

Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Networking and socializing are the keys to finding your niche in the work ecosystem of your choice.

Every job and career option is embedded in a larger world, one it helps to think of as an “ecosystem.” There are many professional ecosystems corresponding to the industries that make up our economy. Industry is a broad term that includes commercial entities and the government agencies that regulate them, along with the nonprofit organizations and trade associations that study and monitor them. There are many serendipitous overlaps between one set of people and another; You may be interested in more than one professional ecosystem.

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What’s an example of a professional ecosystem? Let’s look at bike helmets. Helmets are designed, produced and marketed by many different competitive companies, all of which need talented people who are passionate about bicycles and bike riding. People who care about bicycles and bike riding might be interested in working with government agencies that regulate the safety of bike helmets and sporting gear, or with nonprofit organizations that advocate for safe alternative transportation, or even with sporting goods and outdoor gear stores. And, of course, there are marketing and communications agencies working with each of these entities.

When you begin to look around, you will find there are many analogous professional ecosystems. Your goal is to be part of the ecosystems that you care about. When opportunities materialize, you will already be known to the decision-makers and will be in the mix as they search for candidates.

As you network, be sure to talk with people who are already doing the work that interests you. Ask them what they consider important and what they think their biggest challenges are. This will teach you how to add value in that world (how you can help them), and ultimately get hired to think about the things that interest you.

Becoming part of the ecosystem means positioning yourself to be considered for a job before it even gets advertised. Proactive, consistent networking is the most important strategy to master if you want to find exciting job opportunities and create a rich and substantial career over your lifetime.


Dean Lazar's Golden Guide

For more career tips, read Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People, available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Lydia Lazar is founder and president of LHL Consulting. She is the former associate dean for recruitment and career services at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and previously, dean of international law and policy overseeing international student admissions (LLM) at Chicago-Kent College of Law.