Creating and Using a Professional Network

One important strategy for your success is the ability to make connections and form networks. In the simplest terms, a network consists of individuals who share information, ideas or goals. It can also be defined as making connections among peers.

When you network, an exchange takes place. It is mutual respect for the other’s ability to help when needed, as needed. As you reach out, it is helpful if you have a sense of what you are able and willing to give, as well as what help you want. Networks are based on collaboration rather than competition.

Benefits of Networking

There are four kinds of help or resources you might gain from networking: information, skills, support and access.

  • Information is generally regarded as the most valuable kind of help, especially if it is current information that is not yet generally known or is difficult to find.
  • Skills make up the second type of exchange in networks. This includes skills and services that contacts can either locate or offer themselves.
  • Support can take many forms, from simple acts of giving encouragement or recognizing someone else’s accomplishment, to more complex forms, such as building alliances and collaborations for specific programs.
  • Access to other networks is the process of referring one contact to a group of others. With strong, extensive networks, you are better able to provide (or receive) this kind of assistance.

Networking: A Few Tips

With all the other demands on your time, the easiest thing to postpone is networking and cultivating relationships. The time invested is crucial for the success of your career. Building relationships for yourself, through face-to-face visits, letters, phone calls and e-mail with old and new colleagues, near and far need to be intentional. Schedule relationship-building time into every day. It’s just as essential as getting published.

  1. Your mentor and peer committee members can be valuable allies. These are colleagues who can promote your professional productivity, foster confidence in your abilities and help you build your network. These relationships can be a source of acceptance and personal support as well as information about how to be successful.
  2. Track down accomplished faculty in county offices, on campus, and at other campuses and learn what you can from them — as well as enjoy the collegiality that results.
  3. Actively reach out to faculty, especially to faculty in other counties, departments on and off-campus. Take such risks. Attend the research cafes, colloquia, and lectures given by colleagues and dare to initiate cordial conversations.
  4. Contact the Center for Teaching Excellence to find out what programs they offer for faculty members’ on-going professional development.
  5. Join your professional organization and attend their state, regional or national meetings/conferences.
    • ANREP (Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals)
    • NACAA (National Association of County Agricultural Agents)
    • NACDEP (National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals)
    • NAE4-HA (National Association of Extension 4-H Agents)
    • NEAFCS (National Extension Association of Family & Consumer Sciences)
  6. Don’t hide your own programs, research and scholarship away: talk, talk, talk about it and ask informed others for their reactions (whether these others are on or off-campus and whether they are peers or instead way up the hierarchy).
  7. Reach out and enroll other faculty, on and off-campus and other campuses located throughout the state, to join you on collaborative writing, research, education or grant-funded projects.
  8. Understand that you need to be not independent but instead interdependent with others. Think of yourself as a resource. Be willing to help others who are looking for information and skills you have or know how to find.
  9. Assess your current network.
    • Evaluate the connections you already have.
    • Get clear about what you want: information about campus resources; advice about your research; tips on balancing work and family?
    • Reflect on who might potentially meet these wants.
  10. Develop an efficient tracking system. Create one that works for you. Consider this example:
    • Use 3 x 5 cards, a Rolodex system or a computer listing. You can also carry a small notebook for writing ideas, people’s names and how to contact them.
    • Paste your contact’s business card on the front side or transfer the same information
    • Note where you met, what you talked about
    • Describe other interests discussed
    • Keep track of when phoned, when seen, and what was said. Note any promises in another color. Were those completed?