Alumni share their secrets to networking—online and in person—and making it work for your career.
By Christine Van Dusen
Networking is a skill that must be developed, nurtured, and fine-tuned. Here, alumni who have obtained a new position or new clients as a direct result of their networking efforts, along with professionals in human resources, describe the best ways to advance your career by reaching out, making a good impression, and staying connected online and in person. As our graduates attest, the benefits are immeasurable: Networking can lead to new publishing partnerships, volunteer opportunities, or even a new career.
The Internet is fertile ground for networking. Make the most of it by following this advice:
Going online isn’t enough. Face-to-face communication is just as important. Find networking events by joining trade groups (online or in person), volunteering, subscribing to journals, keeping in touch with past and current colleagues—and staying current with Walden’s own alumni network. Other options may also arise from your online networking. Once you have a few upcoming events, here’s what to do when you walk in the door.
So you’ve signed up for LinkedIn—now what? Here are the key elements of a solid, productive profile:
Start With the Basics
Create a clear and detailed profile, including previous and current places of employment.
Post a high-quality headshot and make sure it is recent. Using an unprofessional or inaccurate photo raises red flags.
Detail Your Expertise
Include your educational background. Employers not only want to see where you went to school and which degrees you earned—they want to see if you’re a fellow alum.
Keep It Fresh
Include keywords that pop up routinely on websites within your industry. It will help employers find you and help you find relevant opportunities.
Be proactive. Request recommendations from your current contacts.
Keep your contact information up to date—you never know when someone will reach out.
Start a Conversation
Each contact counts: Recruiters want to see more than where you’ve worked; they want to find out who you know. “Word of mouth is a great resource. If I can find someone who will recommend an applicant, I always talk to them,” Dr. Christi Sanders ’11 says. “They are more comfortable answering questions, and I am more comfortable asking them.”
Having 500-plus connections on LinkedIn is only valuable if you actually know and speak to all of those colleagues. Our alumni explain how to make your networking efforts more collaborative:
Stay Active in Professional Organizations
The National Education Association, the American Management Association, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association are examples of just a few of the industry-specific organizations you can join. Not only will these memberships help you stay up to date with advances in your field, you’ll also learn about upcoming events, seminars, and publications—prime opportunities for networking. “They also help you widen your geographical reach,” says Doris Idahor ’12. “These organizations offer access to industry leaders.”
Focus on Where You Want to Work
“The next trend by far is employee referrals,” says Meena Williamson ’11. Employers look for candidates by talking to their employees first and asking them to reach out to their networks. She urges job seekers to pursue new connections at any organization through volunteerism, mentoring, or shadowing. Dr. Christi Sanders ’11 agrees the workforce makeup is changing. “I believe we’ll see in-house networking increase,” she says. “Organizations will need to look internally to develop talent and hold on to their best employees.”
Go Off the Beaten Path
Sure, your connections may start on LinkedIn, but they may also jump to other sites, like Scribd, SlideShare, and Skype. “I think we’ll see more virtual meetings, training, and even recruiting,” Dr. Robert D. Boyden ’10 says. Dr. Sean Stanley ’11 agrees. Think of it as a “social media umbrella,” he says. “Users will build their résumés and reputations in new ways, exposing them to a wide audience, and facilitating conversations that will allow them to build ongoing relationships with clients or potential employers.” But remember to mix your online pursuits with in-person meetings, cautions Hertel. “There is a lot to be said for the art of simple conversation.”
We all know the basic rules to follow when applying for a new position. Check that your materials don’t have spelling errors. Always be courteous. Follow up to thank an interviewer. What you may not realize is how much each detail matters. Our alumni with experience in human resources explain why it’s so important to dot every i and cross every t:
Tailor your résumé, cover letter, and application materials. “One size does not fit all. Organizations have unique needs and interests,” says Doris Idahor ’12. When revising your résumé for a position, consider all of your interests, including your hobbies. “If it relates, highlight it,” explains Meena Williamson ’11. If you are a technology guru, for example, list your software, hardware, or coding skills so the employer is aware of your level of expertise.
Present a professional image from all angles. “The interview begins long before you step into the office,” says Dr. Christi Sanders ’11. “From the moment I receive the application, every interaction is judged, including your voice mail message and public search results on the Web.” Remember, any detail, even the email you use to send the materials, may be the first impression for a hiring manager—make sure it’s positive and professional.
Share your passion. “Candidates who are passionate stand out,” says Williamson. Once you’ve secured an interview, come prepared to share professional stories. Not only will they make you memorable, they will build your credibility. “Compelling stories portray your value,” Idahor says.
Remember that courtesy is essential. Even if you’re no longer interested in a position, respond to every call or email you receive. “Employers track their applicant pool,” explains Williamson. “If you apply for another position at the company in the future, your courtesy will be remembered.”
Doris Idahor ’12, a Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate and PhD in Public Policy and Administration student based in Africa as the head of human resources and organizational development for ActionAid International in Liberia
Dr. Christi Sanders ’11, a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) graduate, director of human resources for the city of Granbury, Texas, and a faculty member at Southwestern Assemblies of God University and Indiana Wesleyan University
Dr. Sean Stanley ’11, DBA graduate, interim assistant dean of students at UNC-Charlotte, and a faculty member at Walden
Meena Williamson ’11, Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduate and human resources recruiter and QA (quality assurance) manager for Care Resources in Baltimore, Md.
Dr. Robert D. Boyden ’10, PhD in Public Policy and Administration graduate and owner of Public Safety Concepts Group in Philadelphia
Robin Hertel ’08, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) graduate and Doctor of Education (EdD) student, and a faculty member at North Central Kansas Technical College in Hays, Kan.
Dr. Antonio Santonastasi ’00, PhD in Psychology graduate, manager for NATO in Germany, and an adjunct faculty member at Baker College, California InterContinental University, and Capella University