Approach and Practice: Networking 101

Last week I received this tweet:


Many folks either love or hate networking. I have rarely met people who have ambiguous feelings on the topic. The ones who enjoy it are often self-proclaimed social butterfly’s, “Woo’s” or extroverts.

The ones who are not particularly fond of this may view it as fake, unimportant or might not simply feel comfortable approaching new people for the sole purpose of building their professional network.

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of comfort with networking most can agree that it can serve a purpose. The three ways I have found it most useful are:

1)Resource-sharing: As you move up you will often be asked to “make XYZ happen” or “create this _________ (fill in the blank-program, policy, resource, etc.).

Ummm, OK. Where to start? Begin with your own intellect and experiences and sprinkle liberally with the knowledge of others. Reaching out to my network for ideas, a second opinion or simply having another set of (fresh) eyes on a proposal has made all the difference in my experience.

2) Building a colleague base at, below and above your current professional role: In my current role I have no direct peer who is doing exactly what I am doing (unlike previous roles I have had). Making connections with other people who lead Residence Life staffs has been incredibly useful.

My peers and I often marvel to each other “How come no one tells you that leadership at this level is so hard??” Having other colleagues who are similarly situated in their career builds a strong sense of community across folks at the same level. There are days where having a quick conversation with folks like Torry Brouillard-Bruce (University of the Pacific), Carolyn Golz (Lake Forest College) or Romando Nash (University of Southern California) reaffirm, refocus and restore your belief in your work and yourself!

Building a network with people at less-experienced levels is valuable because it reminds you of the needs of the people you supervise and helps you to understand how your actions, goals and vision may be interpreted. Hearing about the professional journeys of people like Amy Boyle (Loyola University,-New Orleans), Shamika Johnson (Miami University), Matt Bloomingdale (Georgia Tech) and Terrance Smith (Purdue University) has been such a gift to me because it provides an outside perspective on the role of staff dynamics, how change is interpreted and what motivates employees on days when this information is needed most.

As always, we can learn much-needed lessons from people above our current professional level. They can share their perspective from their many years of experience and help you to anticipate and recognize potential pitfalls. I always walk away from conversations with folks like Cissy Petty (Loyola University-New Orleans) Norb Dunkel (University of Florida), Sumi Pendakur (Harvey Mudd College), and Beth McCuskey (Purdue University) feeling stronger, more confident and armed with new strategies to approach my work.

The common thread with everyone I mentioned above is that I have never worked with any of these exceptional professionals. We were first connected through social media, our work with professional associations or have been introduced through a mutual shared connection. My world and my work has been enriched though each of these relationships.

3) Professional development collaborations: I have written articles with people who live 3,000 miles away who I have never met (except via social media), and presented program sessions with colleagues I only met briefly at conferences.

While I do enjoy working with folks who are familiar with my writing and presentation style, it is a great challenge and opportunity to collaborate with a new person and potentially create a useful tool, resource and/or presentation.

I am grateful for these experiences because when I changed jobs and moved across the country I had already built a few relationships with folks who now lived in the same part of the country. It made my transition easier and it felt good to already know a few people in my new region.

A week after I accepted the offer at my current institution my new NASPA region called to offer me a leadership role with their annual conference. Turns out those new connections I had made through networking had advocated for me to serve in that position. Networking is about giving and receiving and I will be sure to repay the generosity bestowed upon me. “Pay it forward” it the key to networking.

OK, so now you have a few reasons as to why networking is important but how do you actually do it? A few tips for your consideration:

Create a plan for each conference you attend: My staff will confirm that I always ask them “What is your plan for this conference?” This means, 1-what coffee dates have you set-up to connect with new people, 2-what sessions do you want to attend both because of the content and the presenter and finally 3-what are your goals for learning, networking and bringing back info to campus?

If you can see a full list of presenters and/or attendees prior to the start of a professional conference you can reach out to structure your schedule in a way that allows you to meet all of your goals. I typically divide my conference time between sessions, volunteer hours for the association (where you can meet all sorts of new people) and pre-scheduled coffee dates with folks who I have asked to connect with or they have asked to connect with me. At a four-day conference you can easily fit in 6-8 of these kinds of meetings.

Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up: I email and/or send a note to every person who gives me their business card throughout the year (on-campus, at a conference, etc). I typically send another piece of communication three months after the initial meeting to say hello and re-connect. That way (the next time you see each other) the conversation has been continuing throughout the year and it feels more authentic than simply the once a year “meet and greet.”

Reach out to connect with people individually: Whether on your own campus or through a professional association don’t be shy about reaching out to someone you want to connect with. I wrote about this experience a couple of years ago and my professional relationship with this woman has absolutely continue up and enriched my life.

Take a chance-it just might change your life 🙂

Start locally, then act globally: At my previous university I got connected with our on-campus women’s network for faculty and staff members. I met terrific new colleagues–many of whom grew to be good friends! This helps to build your confidence to network outside of your institution.

Remember that the keys to networking are approachability/friendliness (say hello, smile, shake their hand), courage (approach folks you may not know to simply introduce yourself) and commonality (try to find a common thread, mutual acquaintance, etc.) during the initial conversation.

OK, let’s practice!

When you see someone across the room who you want to meet consider doing one of two things:

1) Find someone who know that person and ask if they would be so kind as to introduce you: Simply say “I believe you know (fill in the name) and I have really been hoping to meet him/her. Would you feel comfortable making the introduction?”

2) Gather your courage and make the introduction yourself: As long as the person you seek to meet is standing in a group (i.e. not with just one other person) you should feel free to approach him/her. Example intro: “Hello, I’m sorry to interrupt but my name is Ann Marie and I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself. I attended your program session on assessment at the NASPA conference and I really appreciated your information—we are hoping to implement something similar at my school.” This is one of many friendly, brief introductions that establishes a common experience.

Networking may seem daunting but it is all about approach and practice! What tips do you have to sharpen your networking skills?

Follow me on Twitter: @annmarieklotz

About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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3 Responses to Approach and Practice: Networking 101

  1. Abi Kennedy says:

    As a natural introvert, networking seemed very daunting to me when I was a new professional. I eventually got to practicing some of these tips and have gotten much more comfortable in networking after many years of uncomfortable starts. I relied a lot on friends to make an intitial introduction that allowed me to then take the lead on continuing interaction and getting to know someone. Last year at NASPA was the first conference I was at that I felt comfortable in the network I’d established and growing it with new friends and colleagues through more networking. A colleague even commented to me that every time they saw me I was talking to someone, often people I had just met. This was a great compliment to an intorvert and was insightful in how far I’d come in my comfort with networking. Just asking for a coffee date goes a long way and I’ve appreciated that willingness from other (inculding you AMK) in saying yes and scheduling time. It has paid off for me immensly. I hope others can use this advice and avoid some of the pitfalls of networking that I experienced in the beginning of my career.

    • Thanks Abi! Good for you for pushing past the uncomfortable stage and have gotten to the point where it feels more natural–that is no small feat. You have a huge heart–that is obvious from the second people meet you!–and that certainly helps you in about a million different way–your kindness shines through. Thanks so much for reading!

  2. LOVE LOVE this topic!

    A few wise women and a wise man got this introvert into networking. Some more wise women and I discussed our thoughts in this podcast. *shameless plug* “Today’s Learning Workplace (TLW) 117: Networking + Learning = Personal Learning Network ”

    Living in a relationship economy (China) for six years really hammered down on me, “relationships are critical.’

    The main thing that works for me is to make networking a game. From Dave O’Farrell (O’Farrell Career Management, Peachtree City, GA) I revised his jobseeking “Looking for Hipos” formula into a “create a new network person a week” game. I give myself points, more for a phone conversation, less for an email dialogue and even less for just “connecting” on a social/professional network. I set my goal at X number of points per week/month/year.

    At conferences, I rack up the points by making myself sit at a different table each session, to the point of nearly avoiding having a meal with the same person more than once. I do follow-ups (afterward) with every person I met and got a business card from.

    The one thing that makes it valuable for this introvert? I love meaning-making and I love helping people achieve successes. Increasing my network size exponentially adds to the potential of both.

    It isn’t natual and it IS exhausting. I have to decompress and re-energize by installing Linux on several machines while I read and listen to music. I don’t know if it ever will be natural to network, but when I see the magnification of my efforts (because of networking) it increases its value.

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