Last week I received this tweet (right):

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?

AuthorAnn Marie