Dr. Sandy Jones, Vice President of Strategic Engagement, Shares the Value of a Building a Professional Network
You have heard this career advice many times: It isn’t what you know, it is who you know. As a higher education administrator at CSU Global charged with marketing and enrollment, I would not discount the value of knowledge, skill, and experience in building your career; however, we have to accept that the value of a professional network is, well, priceless, and it cannot be ignored as a tactic for workplace success.
So why do many of us avoid networking?
I was recently asked by Times Higher Education to write an article on how to build and maintain a professional network, and something occurred to me as I wrote it: It isn’t that we don’t know how to build a network, it is that many of us find it to be inauthentic–or even worse–cringey. Also, we presume if we are happy in our current role, it isn’t necessary. However, research suggests that we may be losing out on more than a new job or a bigger paycheck if we avoid it. According to Harvard Business Review, networking leads to more job opportunities, knowledge, improved capacity, promotional opportunities, and greater perceived status. Building a supportive professional network can also improve your quality of work and increase your job satisfaction. Many times in my 20+ years in my career, I have tapped into my contacts to find the right vendor, pass along a job link where I am having trouble filling it, or for informal advice and coaching about how to deal with work challenges I am facing, none of which relate to a desire to land a new job.
Assuming I have made a strong case for the “why,” one question remains: how do we do this in a way that is both authentic and attainable for busy professionals who don’t have the time or interest in going to cocktail parties or networking mixers?
Connecting on LinkedIn
Create a solid LinkedIn profile by importing your resume into it and connecting with as many colleagues and personal friends as possible. Don’t be surprised when you find out that your high school or college friend works at your dream company that has an open position–and when it happens, make sure to InMessage them and get the inside scoop! Additionally, LinkedIn helps you stay informed on the latest industry news as you view your career-related “feed,” which you can use to share with your teammates to develop professionally. Also of note, recruiters use LinkedIn to reach out to candidates, which means if you don’t have a profile, they may not know you exist. This is a tactic that works for everyone–especially for those who are averse to “working a room.” It is also a great option for those who aim to grow their network outside of their current company or organization with limited flexibility to leave their desks.
But don’t forget to network with leaders within your organization. Even if you have worked in your current role for many years, an invite to an introductory in-person or virtual coffee is almost always welcomed (again, keep it short). If you are unsure of how you would open the conversation, this simple starter should do the trick: “I am so grateful you agreed to this coffee/lunch. I’d love to start by asking you how you came to the university and your role, and then discuss how I can support you or your department better in my role.” I love these meet-and-greet style meetings, as they break up a day that is traditionally filled with heavy strategy sessions that contribute to an ever-growing to-do list.
Involvement in Professional Organizations
Another great place to get started is through involvement in professional organizations that support your current or desired profession. Notice the phrasing–involvement–as simply attending the annual conference next year will be less impactful to building a network than volunteering at it, joining a knowledge community or committee, or inquiring about a leadership role in your region or division of the association. This way, if you ultimately decide to attend the annual conference, you are networked into key “nodes” (highly connected individuals with many contacts) within your profession before you arrive, and you can lean on them to make strategic introductions to speakers, vendors, or attendees.
Even if building your network doesn’t help you move up in your career tomorrow, it will improve how you approach your work today, which is just as important. For current CSU Global students looking to advance in their careers, consider reaching out to our fabulous support team on CSU Global Connect.