By: Tom Phelps, @phelpsgs
Last winter I was able to teach a collegiate course on Sport Management. One of my goals for the class was to bring in guest lecturers from the world of sports and advertising. There were multiple speakers who explained their divergent path to success but they all had the central core ideas for people looking for a career in sports. A couple of the proclamations by the guests were staples that are common knowledge for any person who desires to be successful in any field. There was the idea of follow your passion and working hard, but another suggestion that was universally considered more important than talent or work ethic was the ability to network. While someone may have the talent/passion/desire to be successful, they sometimes need help to get to the top. That is where networking will come in handy.
With the advent of the internet, networking has become easier than ever. A web site such as LinkedIn can be a gold mine for networking. People can also now interact with high level executives through the world of Twitter. The World Wide Web can provide you with up to date staffing directories as well as new jobs people have acquired or positions that are not even open yet. The following is a primer on what to do and not to do when networking.
The number one don’t in the world of networking is don’t be an asker. By this I mean do not be a person who only contacts a person when they want or need something. Example, there is a person I know works for a nonprofit organization, every time I see the person’s phone number pop up I cringe. The reason is because every time they call they want something. What makes the situation even worse is the person is a “time burglar” while engaging with small talk that neither of us are interested in having before we get to the heart of the matter, which is taking care of their needs. Also, to make matters worse this type of person while always asking for something will never provide anything in return. If you become this type of person, people will not try to help you out and will eventually go out of there to avoid you.
Another don’t is depending too much on imaginary friends. Here is a true story. An athletic director for a major division one athletic program constantly has employers contact him about people who have used his name as a reference. Often when this happens he has no idea who the person who is using him for a reference is and can provide no insight. The point of the story is just because you follow a person on twitter or are connected to them via LinkedIn do not consider them a good friend or future reference. In this cyber world it is easy to fall into a comfort zone of computer contacts.
The final don’t is to ask for too much from a networking contact. Take for instance you are not an “asker” and you have a good relationship with a mentor or a contemporary but you need help with your work. It is fine to ask for ideas but remember these people have full time jobs and possibly families and side projects that limit their time. If you want something keep it brief. As an example, if you need promotional ideas for an event ask for one or two possible solutions. If you ask for a lot you will not get anything in return but if you ask for a little you can receive a whole lot.
Now that you have received some advice on what not to do here is some ideas on how to be successful at networking. There is an old adage “fish where the fish are”, which means seek out people who have jobs or organizations or locations interest you. If there is a school you would like to one day work for seek out their employees especially a person who is in a position that you are particularly interested in. This could be a person you might be able to ask a question (not too many) about their job and organization.
A big question with networking is, once you made a contact, what is next? The key is not to overwhelm a person and not to become an “asker”. How can this be done? It is a rather simple formula; when you reach out to a networking contact do not ask for anything, there are multiple ways to do this. If the team/school they are affiliated with has a big win congratulate them. If they are a smaller school or organization and have a game on television recognize them for it or during the holidays send them a card. Also, you can volunteer an idea to help them. If you have a promotion that has been successful and you feel it can help another organization, suggest it to them. By doing these things you are already showing a potential future employer your talent your work ethic and your social skills.
Here is another important point of networking, do not limit yourself just to people who have the same career as yourself. If you attend networking events or belong to civic organizations you can learn ideas and connect with people who are not in your usual comfort zone. This can help a person professionally and personally. Also, it can provide opportunities for a person if the need for a career change or new employment becomes necessary.
The final and the most important thing to do in networking is to go out of your way to seek out a person for a face to face meeting. Another story to back up this point, a person who started his post collegiate career working for K-Mart had gotten an interview with a sport marketing firm dedicated to racing. After the interview the candidate went out of his way to visit the interviewee at an event. The point was just to show the interest he had in the organization. He was able to get the job and is now a vice president for a top flight NASCAR team. Do not just limit network interaction to a computer. If you are going to a game, make a mental note of what the head of the organization looks like in case you run across them. If you do meet up with them offer a handshake and mention your name and where you work. It is a way to match a name with a face.
One final note about networking, make sure people know about your career, job promotions, articles published, awards. It can be a good way to find new connections and to keep you relevant in other people’s eyes.
To recap, networking is a huge aspect to a person’s career. It is important to use the internet to expand the network. If possible seek out people in a face to face atmosphere. Do not force networking on people, be smart about how you network. Finally, target places and jobs and people you would like to work for or with.