Networking is an important skill to possess in student affairs, because we spend significant time establishing, expanding, and nurturing connections and partnerships. In my experience, I find that effective networking can positively impact your career. By networking, you may identify a mentor, earn career opportunities, or collaborate on a presentation or publication. Networking can also be a challenging experience. For example, introverts may find networking with potential employers an overwhelming experience.
Despite the challenges, networking is necessary for career advancement. I recall how much I benefited from networking during my first TPE experience. While I was fortunate to have pre-existing networks, participating in TPE Onsite was a completely different networking experience. It was a great opportunity to develop my networking skills in a diverse crowd of talented employers and candidates. As you prepare for your time in Indianapolis, I recommend the following five strategies for effective networking:
1. Have a good understanding of self. It’s important to go into a networking space with a good understanding of self. When interviewing for positions at TPE Onsite, of course employers want to know about your skills and experiences. However, it’s just as important for an employer to get to know who you are: What is your purpose? What are your values? What lived experiences impacted you and inspired you to make a difference in the lives of others? Answers to these types of questions allow employers the opportunity to gain a better perspective of who you are, what is important to you, and how well you can authentically articulate your understanding of self as it relates to the role you are applying for. In addition, the understanding of self is important for networking, enables you to identify commonalities and differences with others, which is significant in a meaningful and authentic relationship.
2. Take advantage of opportunities to showcase your skills and talents. When networking, the first impression is everything! At TPE Onsite (and if you plan to attend the NASPA Annual Conference), you’ll want to engage employers in spaces where you can showcase your skills and talents. For example, it may be beneficial to invite an employer to attend a conference session at which you’re a presenter. Additionally, contribute to online conversations on Twitter; share your ideas and perspective so your voice can be noticed virtually. Also, in between interviewing, volunteer to showcase your commitment to service. These strategies give you a chance to showcase your talents and create opportunities to network with employers beyond the interviewing table.
3. Cultivate relationships with seasoned student affairs professionals. I find it helpful to network with seasoned student affairs professionals. Connecting with seasoned professionals allows you to have conversations to inquire about their career path, educational background and lessons learned. You’ll gain insight, knowledge, and advice, which adds to your TPE experience. These leaders are potential resources during your job search process. While it’s good to connect with your peers at TPE Onsite, cultivating new relationships with student affairs colleagues is equally important!
4. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Networking isn’t always easy or the most enjoyable activity; however, it is a necessary skill that must be done regularly. Take the calculated risk to put yourself in spaces where you can network with colleagues, employers, and peers. Whether it’s a social event, reception, in between sessions, or on the elevator, networking can have tremendous benefits if - at first - you’re willing to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Understand that a calculated risk, such as nervously approaching someone new, can turn into future career opportunities or a beneficial relationship.
5. Establish, expand, and nurture connections and partnerships beyond TPE. Networking doesn’t end at TPE Otensi. Make sure to distribute and collect business cards. When networking, engage in a conversation that draws on a topic or idea that requires follow up. This gives you the ability to continue expanding and nurturing this new connection beyond the initial conversation. Also, it’s always good to maintain relationships and stay in touch with people in your network, because these connections will have short- and long-term benefits throughout your career.
Bonus networking strategy: Be authentic! There is power in building authentic connections with a future employer or colleague. Show that you value others and are committed to knowing them as their authentic self - not by a title. Networking cannot be about who collects the most business cards, but, more importantly, about how you meaningfully create authentic relationships and take time to get express your authentic self while also creating the space for others to do the same.
Now, this is not an exhaustive list, but it does offer an introductory, yet comprehensive, perspective on key networking strategies for you to consider during the job search process. So, if you’re uncomfortable networking, now is the time to “be comfortable with the uncomfortable” and consider these networking strategies!
David E. Jones is the Director of Student Conduct and Residence Life at the City University of New York. To connect with David, find him on Twitter @davidearljones, or contact him via email David.Earl.Jones514@gmail.com. To learn more about David visit, https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidearljones1.