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Networking: It really does work

The most important team you have now is the network of alumni and other professionals who will help you land your next job.

Good news for both current and former student-athletes: Data shows most successful job hunts occur as a result of networking.

Whether you are still playing or competed 30 years ago, being a college athlete means interacting with other student-athletes, fans, alumni, people in the athletics department and others who enjoy being associated with college athletics. This unique bonding over sport and alma mater often translates into job opportunities later.

But how do you maintain meaningful contact with these people? What’s the best way to start and maintain these relationships?

In networking, few answers are right or wrong as long as you keep some basics in mind:

  • Effective networkers are organized. They set up a networking file that lists names and contact information for people with whom they want to connect, and they reach out periodically. Such contact is usually of the “what’s up?” nature. The goal is to maintain communication until help is needed.  
  • Capable networkers also keep expanding their networks. They recognize all events they attend – parties, business meetings, conferences, seminars, after-hours socializing or even webinars – are opportunities to enlarge their professional networks. They come prepared to work the crowd, establish relationships and exchange contact information. And they follow up to solidify new contacts.
  • The savvy networker will take advantage of technology.  LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are amazing networking tools. For example, with LinkedIn, a personalized request to connect with a single individual can expand a network exponentially with just a few strokes of the keyboard. Twitter can be the starting point for job dreams coming true. Following experts in your field and joining conversations is a great way to get noticed in your area of expertise while expanding your network. Facebook is another excellent medium for spreading the word on your skills and achievements.
  • All successful networkers communicate. They make it a habit to call, email, text, tweet, connect on LinkedIn and Facebook and exchange business cards with others in their network frequently to keep their network alive.

Those are the things you must do.

There is one thing good networkers don’t do and that is activating their network only in times of need. This is the cardinal sin of networking. It’s takes a lot of work and time to properly network. Coaches often say championships are won in the off-season because of all the work and effort the team puts in. It’s the same with networking. Your network won’t be ready if you haven’t primed it with time and effort before you really need it.

Paul W. Barada is a human resource consultant and chairman of the board at Barada Associates Inc. who serves on the “I” Association board for the Indiana University, Bloomington.

“Bring the teamwork, discipline and mental / physical toughness that you earned to your career, company and job search. Speak with alums that currently possess the position(s) that you are seeking, and ask them for advice and referral contacts to speak and network with. Establish your goals, then be persistent, hustle and act with confidence.”

Patrick Mitten, President, Supply Chain Division, Fidelitone Logistics, Football, Michigan State University ‘82

“Luck favors the assertive and the prepared. It’s important to begin building a young professional network. I strongly encourage grads to become active members of local national association chapters that will help them identify career opportunities. Seek prospective mentors and sponsors and above all, be prepared to take on responsibilities and when a new opportunity appears always say "Yes". By being open to new opportunities you will expose yourself to new experiences that will be valuable in landing a career. Be on time and be ambitious.”

- Jesse Torres, Corporate Development, Higher Education & Non-Profit Consultant, Cross country and track, Adams State University ‘96