Career Advice Blog

Prepare to Work at Networking, Not Just Sports


You will need to create opportunities to talk to all these new people, especially those in different parts of your life other than athletics. The goal of networking is to allow you to communicate your future personal growth plans and interests and to develop face-to-face relationships with many new people that can help you in your career.


We mentioned earlier that one of the advantages to being a student-athlete is that you have an excellent opportunity to expand your network while you are still in competition. Every time you travel to a competition or game, try to meet and make informal contact with some of your opponents and coaches, the family, friends, and relatives of your own teammates, and even referees and umpires. Remarkably, you can expand your network at anytime and almost anywhere– even in places you thought might not be possible.


Be sure to find the time to make appointments with your professors so you can learn more about them. You will be amazed at how wonderfully human they are. Getting to know your professors will help you in your classes, as well as when you are in need of letters of recommendation and when you are searching for internships or full-time employment. And don’t forget to get to know your advisors, trainers, coaches, and the athletic directors. Each of these individuals has there own individual network and can assist you in much the same way your professors can.


The primary objective of networking will be that when the time comes, you will inform your network you are conducting a job search campaign. If they haven’t heard about your graduations from school, your “retirement” from competitive sports, or your departure from your last job, frame the news in a way that lets them know you are dealing well with the emotions of the situation and you are ready to move on to a new part of your career development. Early in the conversation, reassure the person that the real reason for your contact is to get information and advice– not that you expect them to find you a job. People want to help people, and in the final analysis, people hire people. It’s a fact.


Most importantly, get involved. By being active in community, academic, recreational, and social activities, where you can expand your support system and your contact network. You probably have well over fifteen years of competitive athletic experience, so see if you can use some of this athletic experience by seeking out and accepting speaking engagements with local groups who are assisting with a sports event your community. It’s a great way to meet parents of young athletes who are potential business owners and hiring managers. In sports, folks tend to look out after their own kind, and you should not underestimate the power of your athletic bonds.



The Power of Common Interests and Information


What makes networking work is that everyone is fundamentally comfortable with conversation, sharing of information, and helping another human being. It’s 100% natural. When it happens, networking has an easy flow.


When people need information about important matters of daily life, they usually get it by asking around. For instance, when parents need a babysitter, they usually ask other parents. When you need a new doctor or dentist, you might ask around. You probably decide which movies to see or avoid, based on asking around and talking to people, and it is the same with everything from your classes and instructors to which computer or cell phone to buy. Asking around usually provides you with some advance information that enables you to make a more informed decision. We all do this kind of thing all the time, usually without noticing that we are doing it.


All of this is networking… real networking, and not the stuff you read about in some job search article or website. What makes it real is that the two people talking to each other create a kind of shared interest and connection, and an implied trust is developed and shared. The shared interest could be that they are both are athletes or are in the same major. The connection could also be that they have a mutual friend or they share the same university. The key is that they share an interest in someone, something, or somewhere.


Real networking is what happens at parties. You meet someone, and in the first few minutes, you look for a common interest (people, activities, interests, attraction, personality). If there is no common interest to be found, the conversation usually goes nowhere, and you go your separate ways. However, if you find some common interest, the conversation usually takes off.


The other thing that happens in a real network is that people share valuable information. Information is free, but in today’s complicated society, it is becoming more common to share the valuable information in one-to-one settings, not over electronic airways. If you are an employer looking for a good addition to your company, it is becoming more valuable to ask current employees for their leads and employee recommendations rather than exclusively relying on job boards or career center advertising.



Utilizing the Good Ol’ Boy Network…Especially if You’re a Woman


Companies determine their hiring needs long before a job opening is formally announced. In many cases, these jobs are never openly advertised. During this time, companies conduct a search to see if anyone within the organization knows of a talented person who might be available. It is during these short windows of opportunity that the networking strategies you learn and deploy will produce some of your greatest opportunities.


Studies consistently show that the most effective job search method and career advancement tool is networking– the art and science of finding job leads through family members, friends, and acquaintances. Over 80% of successful job searches come as a result of knowing someone or something and talking to people. The least effective job search method, which ironically is the most widely used method, is responding to classified ads and job postings on the Internet. Doing the job search as basically a direct-mail operation, many are disappointed to discover the reality– a 2% response rate for direct-mail job hunting is considered successful.


In the era of email, Twitter, and text, it may also come as a surprise that the most effective means of communication is still face-to-face and word-of-mouth. And when it comes to finding a job, networking through personally meeting and talking with people is now more important than ever.


Most athletes that have competed in highly competitive environments operate within a rich network of relationships that have developed over time as they progressed in their athletic career– from coaches, teammates, parents, administrators, alumni, boosters, media, business people, politicians, members of churches and other community organizations. Networking is essential to a successful job search and your key to the hidden opportunities that never get publicized. The community of contacts you assemble throughout your lifetime can provide critical details on job leads, vacancies, and industry trends. They’ll also tell you what you’ll need to succeed in your search for a new or better job and a rewarding career.


In the final analysis, your network is a group of people who know that you are looking for a job. These people know what skills you possess, what interests you have, and that you are ready to explore new ideas and meet people. When you assemble a career or job network, it usually implies that you are actively looking for a job opening. Networking is not the same as informational interviewing or having a mentor, but you use many of the same techniques in how you manage the relationship.



Make Your Relationship with Your Mentor Meaningful: Step 4


A good mentor is knowledgeable, generous, a good communicator, and committed to the relationship. You may be lucky enough to have someone such as this already in your life. However, in most cases, you’ll need to recruit one. Here are some tips for finding a career mentor, soliciting their support, and making it a meaningful relationship.


Step 4:  Asking for Their Support.


  • Before you ask for support, prepare a plan. What exactly do you expect of them? If you’re asking this person to commit, they need to know what they are getting  into. It is not reasonable to ask for more than one meeting a month. Define the type of guidance you need. For example, you may want to present yourself on an interview a certain way and want help creating an action plan. Be as specific as you can.


  • Invite the potential mentor to meet to discuss your career. Assure them that you are not asking for a job– you’re just looking for some advice and counsel. At the meeting, define the relationship and your vision. Most importantly, don’t assume the person you are asking will say “yes.” If you sense they are not sure, ask them to think about it overnight. Give them room to say “no.” If they feel pressured to accept, you may not get the level of participation you want.


  • If you are already employed, you should not expect your current boss to become your mentor. It is very unique for your manager to also be your mentor because it is very difficult for this person to be objective on issues  of job performance, office politics, or advancement. Look for senior people within your company who have been along a career path similar to yours. Also look beyond your company to company partners, affiliates, and related companies. Professional associations are a good way to meet top people in your field.





Make Your Relationship with Your Mentor Meaningful: Step 3


A good mentor is knowledgeable, generous, a good communicator, and committed to the relationship. You may be lucky enough to have someone such as this already in your life. However, in most cases, you’ll need to recruit one. Here are some tips for finding a career mentor, soliciting their support, and making it a meaningful relationship.


Step 3:  Make it easy for them to help you.


Your follow-up requests should be as little work for your mentor as possible. Here are four requests in ascending order of the amount of work required for them:


  • “Can I say in my note that you recommended that I reach out?” (no work for them other than providing the contact information)


  • “Would you be willing to send the contact a heads-up email that I plan to reach out to them?” (moderate amount of work)


  • “Would you be willing to do a quick email introduction for the two of us?” (moderate amount of work)


  • “Would you write or call on my behalf recommending they speak with me?” (potentially a significant amount of work). If they say “yes,” then offer to give them a few bullet points to include in their note on what you are seeking to do and why you are a compelling person/candidate.