The Importance of Networking
Much of a student’s success comes from solid preparation for their academic programs, but a major factor also is their ability to connect with people through networking. Having been in higher education for nearly 20 years, as well as having served as a head coach in basketball, cross country, soccer, golf, and track & field during my 25-year coaching career, I have been blessed to learn from some of the best in the sport business. Here are six tips that I gained from some of my colleagues and mentors that I impart to students when they ask, “How do I build my network?” Here are six networking tips that are good for any person in any field of study:
1. Be natural, be genuine, and be yourself
One of the biggest ways to build a network is to be true to yourself. Most people who have climbed the ladder in any career field have this in common: they have connected with those who went before them by being genuine. A potential mentor will help someone if they see that the person is true to who they are; they can sense if you are genuine. Being kind, helpful, and truly interested in getting to know a mentor can go a long way to having that person be interested in helping connect you with others like them.
One former student of mine, Todd Rutledge, who attended Southern New Hampshire University and who has gone on to success stated it this way: “The concept of networking is built upon the development of sincere personal relationships that endure time and distance, similar to the lifelong friendships you fostered as a child” (Rice, 2015, para. 8).
Creating value in someone other than yourself is not just a good way to grow your network; it is also the right thing to do as a productive citizen in our society.
2. Be confident
Developing a network of trusted advisers is not easy at times and takes self-confidence. You must not have a fear of failure or rejection. You will experience a setback from time to time while you climb the ladder, but the use of empowering, positive self-talk can make a huge difference in your climb. Be confident enough to reach out to potential connections and set a time over coffee or a meal to learn how they climbed the ladder. Most successful professionals will see your initiative and offer their time.
Speaker and strategist Matt Mayberry wrote that “talking to yourself like a champion reconditions your thought process in an instant. When you form the habit of talking to yourself like a champion you don't give the negative and discouraging thoughts the time of day” (para. 10).
The bottom line is that most folks who have gone on to success strongly believe in themselves. For me, I always dreamt of becoming a head college basketball coach. While I did not have the pedigree that many others had in the business, what I did not have in pedigree I made up for in vision, belief, and work ethic. I reached that dream and continue to pursue new dreams to this day with the same approach.
3. Be honest and respectful
Being honest and respectful about your intentions is something that can be extremely helpful as you build not only strong professional relationships, but more importantly good friendships. It is important to be bold in building your network, but it is paramount to speak with your contacts in a friendly manner and always show respect. Let them know what your goals are in climbing the ladder, and ask them how they got there. Also, the power of being appreciative for the opportunity to learn from that person cannot be understated (including the use of hand-written thank you notes). The person who you are learning from is busy so remember to thank them for giving their time.
4. Present yourself well
Most students know my penchant for good presentation. I have seen my fair share of resumes, cover letters, and email communication through the years to tell you that if you do not present yourself well, either in writing or in your personal appearance, then you could risk not being taken seriously and perhaps lose your golden opportunity. Strong writing and personal presentation skills are critical for success, especially considering the huge increase in technology, the written word is everywhere these days.
Always have business cards handy and ask for them from potential connections. Also, the development of a strong, but concise, elevator pitch (45 seconds) can be something that could help you sell yourself even more. Focusing on the little details in this area can take you a long way.
5. Keep learning
If you believe that you are through learning after you complete your degree, think again. It is vital to your future success to keep learning by reading up-to-date literature in your area of interest. Simply put, keeping abreast of recent trends will make you very relevant to any potential connection, employer, or client. Moreover, this knowledge can help you communicate effectively about your field of interest. Additionally, going to conferences that relate to the field you want to be in and joining associations that relate to your area of expertise can help you stay up-to-date on the movements in your industry (Schwind, 2013).
6. Stay in touch
It is one thing to gain a connection, but it is an art to keep that connection. I have found that staying in touch with my family, friends, and professional colleagues is all about taking the time to genuinely care about that person for more than what they can do for you. I have tried through the years to build relationships, not acquaintances. All it takes is a quick call, email, text message, or, even better, a hand-written note to let them know how you are doing, but also genuinely find out how they are doing.
Networking is important and it is worth doing with intention. By making genuine connections with people, you’ll be able to learn, grown, and contribute throughout your professional career.
Written by Dr. Tim Rice, Program Chair for the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program in the College of Doctoral Studies and Lead Faculty in the Sport and Performance Psychology specialization in the PsyD program at Ashford University.
Mayberry, E. (2015, May 29). The incredible power of believing in yourself. Entrepreneur.
Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/246720.
Rice, T. (2015, May 1). Sport professionals stress the importance of networking. Sports+Fitness Network. Retrieved from http://sportsfitnessnetwork.com/2015/05/sport-professionals-stress-the-importance-of-networking/.
Schwind, E. (2013, September 17). Top three tips for networking in sports profession. The Sports Digest. Retrieved from http://thesportdigest.com/2013/09/top-three-tips-for-networking-in-sports-profession/.