By Craig Smith
Everybody remembers their starting point; mine in the coaching industry was as a permanent substitute and coach in the Southwestern Wisconsin School District. At the time I was applying for college coaching jobs and posting the rejection letters on my refrigerator as motivation. Two years and 17 rejection letters later, I walked into the office my college football coach and asked for a job. He laid out some ground rules and told me that I would be working for below minimum wage and if I didn’t carry my weight I would be let go.
Those rejection letters were the last jobs I have applied for without being contacted by an employer, which had spoken to somebody in my network, asking me to apply or hearing about a position through my network. When I first started networking I did it without a purpose, no goals, no real understanding of what I was trying to accomplish, then complaining that it was impossible to get interviews when you don’t know anybody.
The whole process seemed impossible to me. Essentially, I was attempting to network with CEO’s and wondering how to become them instead of identifying those that held my position at a higher level or those in higher positions at the same level and building that network. Once my delusions of grandeur subsided and I started to build honest solid relationships, opportunities presented themselves, doors opened and I was prepared to walk through them. 12 years later I am not ready for the job that I thought I was entitled to when I started in this profession.
I continue to learn my craft to better myself and those I work with for the position I currently hold. Recently I had the opportunity to go to the University of Michigan for three days to meet with their coaching staff to see how they do things first hand. The goal was not to leave Michigan with a job offer, my goals were as follows:
- Meet and network with those that are in the same “field” as I am within my career
- Learn about their philosophies as it relates to the game and player development
- Discuss their philosophies on what it takes to be a coach today as well as trends they have seen or see coming
- Discuss their career path and their goals
- Meet and network with other college or high school coaches throughout our visit to give exposure to UW Oshkosh and myself
This opportunity is no different than any other conference people attend to better develop their skills. While networking is a piece that presents itself, the goal of professional conferences is to get better at your career. You cannot be there to network 100% of the time. People will notice that and will question your loyalty and commitment to your current job. Who would turn around and hire a person that they did not trust?!
When meeting people that are in the same job at a higher level or at a bigger company, they go through the same ups and downs as you but theirs get amplified. They are a great reference to learn from through informational interviews, but you do not want to waste their time selling yourself. Remember, the best networkers talk less than 10% of the time! Have questions prepared, do not let opportunities slip through your fingers because of lack of preparation. Know who you will be meeting, their product, and what similarities you share.
Asking questions about the person can be tricky. It helps in my situation they have bio’s up online for me to read through first. The easiest questions, in my opinion, are asking where they attended school, what they studied and where their first position was (for more tips see Conversation Stack link below).
Always be prepared to be the one being networked with. For every position there is somebody trying to get there. Do not be a one way networker! Do not only find the time to network when it is a benefit to you, you must be willing to give back and help the development of others. If you have trouble with that, think about it from this perspective, you never know whose niece or nephew you are talking to or what field you may end up in or on.
For more on networking and to find networking opportunities on campus, click here.