With the end-of-year holidays bearing down on us like a freight train, and my woeful procrastination in terms of getting any shopping done, I probably won’t have quite as much time as hoped this week to get some final blog articles out the door in 2010.  This being said, though, I do have several “petite” thoughts and ideas I’ve been carrying around in my head that I can probably bang out in a few paragraphs here and there, in case they might be helpful to anyone.

For example, when I was speaking to a professional group of accounting types a few weeks back, the thought suddenly hit me that “Wow, while this may be an absolutely terrific group for the purposes of socializing and professional development, it definitely STINKS from a job referral point of view — since you’re basically spending two hours hanging out with your direct competition!”

This got me thinking.  While a case can certainly be made that one should belong and become active in some of the major associations that exist in almost every professional field (e.g. ASTD for training professionals, WSCPA for accountants, SHRM for HR folks, etc.), how many job hunters try a different strategy and join/attend groups focused around a radically different profession or industry than their own?  Is anybody out there doing this?  Wouldn’t this strategy immediately differentiate you from the crowd as well expose you a much more diverse set of networking contacts, given that there would likely be far less “cannibalism” in terms of everybody in the room knowing the exact same people, companies, leads, and such?

For a more detailed analysis of my reasons for thinking this, see the article here on the “Strength of Weak Ties” hypothesis that was developed by mathematician Anatol Rapoport and popularized by the book “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.  Simply put, this theory implies that those people who hang out with each other regularly (like in trade associations) will often end up knowing most of the exact same people, over time, and will therefore be of much less potential use to you as a job seeker, introduction-wise.

So again, is 2011 a year when some of you should shake things up a bit and venture beyond your normal networking comfort zone?  Should a finance person attempt to get involved in a professional marketing group?  Should a sales person join an HR-focused networking organization?  Should a marketing professional try worming their way into some angel investor or entrepreneurial groups, just to gather ideas and inspiration from a different cross-section of the business community than they normally approach?  While some groups obviously have strict guidelines around such things, others are much more open-minded — and may be flattered that an “atypical” professional would want to get involved in their merry band.  For example, I know that the vast majority of female-focused professional organizations in Puget Sound DO allow men to be members.  And without question, the men I’ve seen at these functions definitely stand out from the crowd and gain a lot more recognition than “typical” members, simply by virtue of biological juxtaposition!

So just wanted to share this thought, given the tendency of most people to invest most of their time in the “obvious” groups, surrounding themselves with like-minded (and like-qualified) people, versus trying something more unorthodox.  Sure, you’d need to have a quasi-legitimate excuse in hand to explain your presence, but I’d think something along these lines would work: “You know, I’m actually in marketing, not accounting, but figured it couldn’t hurt for me to learn more about the finance world given the growing demand for ROI-driven marketing these days.  So I’m fascinated to hear more about what this group talks about and whether it will help me build better bridges to my accounting peers inside various organizations.”

Seems like a reasonable hypothesis, doesn’t it?  And if you had the courage to try it out, I’d steer you to the wonderful Seattle Networking Guide for inspiration, since this terrific website offers a comprehensive list of different industry and professional networking groups here in the Puget Sound area…