By Paul D. Geyer
Definition: Networking—the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically, the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business (Miriam-Webster).
For the past two years I have been studying several of the socio-cognitive skills of the undergraduate students at Keiser University-Tallahassee. For one such skill, Networking, I have prepared a “How to” document. Providing our students with opportunities to hone this important skill prior to entering the workforce would enable them to become all the more competitive in the classroom and, later, in their careers.
I begin with an emphasis on self-awareness and self-monitoring via utilization of an on-line self-assessment of networking skill, and then offer tips for skill development which may be built into the curriculum, offered at freshman orientation, or pursued individually. Building a network of supportive instructors, potential employers, and role models is a never-ending process, and so I would encourage all of us to continue to hone this skill.
We might think of networking, quite simply, as a process by which we develop mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with others. Getting a job is not only made easier for those with strong networks, but some jobs require strong networking skill as a prerequisite for being hired. Can a job interviewer be convinced that a potential employee possesses highly competitive networking skill? An effective interviewer isn’t going to accept bold and general claims; they will be duly impressed when they learn that an interviewee has taken concrete action toward honing their skills.
Measuring Networking Skill
I have attached a link to a brief assessment tool, the Focused Networking Self-Appraisal Questionnaire, a 10-item self-scoring instrument developed by Benton, L. (2008).
This brief assessment would be best used as a starting place. If students answer “No” to a lot of the questions, they should consider themselves a beginner. Each “No” may be taken as a red flag for practicing the networking activity in question.
Networking is a goal-oriented activity, and effective networking involves setting clear results-oriented goals and developing the network of contacts necessary to accomplish them. For many beginning college students, the goal might be to earn higher grades by interacting with other students, instructors and advisors. For rising college students and graduates, the goal may be to secure a job in a field of training, perhaps with the added specificity of a bottom line salary, location, or other characteristics.
Identifying Networking Tasks
After setting a goal, one will need to create one’s own measures of successful networking. How is success measured? Here are a few examples:
• How many conversations has one held with people who may know of job vacancies? This would include college professors, human resource managers, co-workers, and others with experience in the chosen field.
• How many job interviews has one completed as a result of referrals from one’s network of contacts?
• How many face-to-face contacts has one engaged in with people empowered to offer a job?
Next, one will need to develop a system for tracking the results of his or her networking activities. One should not trust his or her memory, nor underestimate the importance of self-monitoring. Something to think about: the tracking system one sets can be described to others (perhaps during a job interview) as a way to demonstrate how serious one is about becoming more competent at networking.
This may be important when networking skill is a job requirement. As examples:
• Use a spreadsheet to monitor the results of networking success; record and aggregate results over time; list names of contacts; keep track of where contacts were met; record the number of conversations with members of the network; and document the number of job interviews.
• Use a journal or personal log as an alternative to a spreadsheet. This may be a particularly useful tool for college students with little networking experience. A student might keep notes about experiences interacting with instructors or other students more advanced in their education, and thus capable of providing advice on selection of courses, how to handle a tough instructor, etc.
Lastly, to continue honing networking skill, one needs to set and revise performance goals; this means using the tracking results to set objectives for improvement. As examples:
• A student might set a goal to approach an instructor for tips about advanced studies in the instructor’s area of specialization.
• Based on a count of face-to-face contacts with potential hiring managers, one might set a goal to increase the count by, say, one per month.
• From time to time, one should count number of conversations with people in one’s network, and set a goal to contact each of them again over a specified time period.
Becoming proficient–that is, developing and improving networking skill will require more than practice. Developing a strong self-awareness of one’s current networking skill level, setting developmental goals, and measuring progress in achieving them are essential. Starting this process while in college would not be too soon.
Benton, L. (2008). Focused Networking: The Eight Principles of 21st Century Marketing Authorhouse, Bloomington, Indiana.