Growing Your Network

Whether you’re just starting out in your first admission and enrollment management job or you’re an old pro, your professional network is one of the most important elements to boost your career. 

By Sally Benford

iStock-665394842.jpgPersonal and professional connections can mean the difference between success and advancement or serious burnout. Your professional network is most likely made up of people who can offer you referrals, information and connect you to others in similar or higher positions and vice versa. Networks have evolved over the past decade and, unlike networking of the early 2000s, today it’s all about building solid relationships over time, in which trust is the most important element.

In her book "Stand Out Networking," Marketing Strategy Consultant Dorie Clark, describes networking as, “developing and maintaining relationships with really cool people.” Further, Clark says that being authentic is one of the most important qualities for building a successful network.

If you’re committed to developing or growing a solid professional network this year, we offer five tips for the do's—and don’ts—for mutually beneficial connections.

1. Be Picky
You don’t have to have the largest network in the history of the world. In fact, the more people in your network, the more you’ll be confused about who to connect with. Instead, choose people you admire and also those you can help. You can’t connect with hundreds of people and still be effective, so list the top 10 people, then the top 50, and top 100 that you’d like to connect with on a fairly regular basis and build from there.

2. Be a Giver
Like any good relationship, your network is give and take. The more you give, the more you’ll get. Develop a reputation among your colleagues as someone who is knowledgeable and willing to share information. Even if you’re just starting out in your profession, there are people who can use your experiences as examples to help others. For veterans, your experience and knowledge is a treasure to be shared with those in your network and industry.

3. Branch Out
Connecting with people in your industry or organization is great, and you should join industry associations and participate on member forums. It’s also healthy to diversify your network so you can discover new ideas, points of view and perspectives, which can increase the value you bring back to your clients and co-workers. Branch out into other industries by thinking about people you might share common interests with outside the office. Are you a golfer? Join a weekend league. Do you love to cook? Take a class. Love to volunteer? Pitch in and meet the organization’s leaders. Your social and professional life will grow.

4. Follow Up
Once you’ve traded business cards with a new contact, think about the ways you can connect, whether it’s through email, phone, in-person meetings or conferences. Call someone in your network when something timely happens that cold affect them or their industry. Schedule coffee one-on-one with a peer to discuss how to prioritize events at an upcoming conference. Arrange a meeting between a new contact and someone in your network they’d like to connect with.

5. Don’t Be a Stalker
Once you’ve connected with someone new, you’ll want to follow up with them, but you don’t want to stalk them. Reach out in a timely manner and give them time to respond. You may even want to wait for them to reach out first. Like you, chances are they have a busy life and, if they’re in a leadership role, many demands on their time. Your first contact will most-likely be a “happy to meet you” message, so email instead of phoning, and wait a reasonable amount of time—several days or a week—for them to reply. After that time has passed, it’s appropriate to follow up once and if you don’t hear back, it’s time to move on.