Updated: Sep 21, 2022
My career has taken three completely unexpected turns in the last ten years. And none of these changes would have happened had it not been for a former professor who constantly talked about using your network.
I graduated in December 2008 during a special time in the U.S.—the housing and financial crisis. I spent all of 2009 looking for a corporate job. I had a bachelor’s degree in adult education, was a combat veteran, and was excited to become a corporate trainer! I quickly learned job prospects were dire as I started my job search.
By September of 2009, I was feeling quite dejected. Dozens of job applications submitted. Countless refinements to my resume and cover letters. And nothing. Not a single call for an interview. Most jobs I didn’t even get a rejection! All I could think was…
WHERE DID I GO WRONG?
Turns out maybe it’s less about what you know and more about who you know.
In November of 2009, after 11 months of job searching, I finally worked up the courage (maybe out of desperation) to reach out to that professor who spoke about using my network. I told myself, “well…you’re my network. Prove to me this works.”
Keep in mind, I didn’t even know if she’d remember me!
Outside of being a professor, she was also the Executive Director of a non-profit organization. I figured she would know a lot more people than myself and might be aware of job openings in the area.
Shortly after contacting her, she emailed back saying she had an Adult Education Specialist position open at her organization and asked if I’d be interested! My immediate reaction was shock. Maybe this networking thing could work. Even though I didn’t know anything about non-profit work, I was getting my foot-in-the-door as a trainer. I interviewed and ultimately accepted the position and got to work helping low-income adults earn their GEDs.
The next few weeks were one of the most transformational times in my life. I learned about the significance of non-profit work. I learned about the impact I could [hopefully] make in my community. And I learned I cared an awful lot more about having a sense of purpose over owning a large house. The dramatic personal growth I experienced started because of my network. It also completely changed my career path.
I stayed in non-profit work for a little over three years and concurrently returned to school for a graduate degree, where a classmate convinced me our university needed a student veteran organization. Again, I had never thought about leading a student organization, but my network was pushing me to try something new.
Six months later, I was suddenly serving as the director of our campus’ first veterans resource center. I stayed in school during that time to pursue a doctorate. During my doctoral program, two other professors in my network encouraged me to publish papers with them. I had no idea what I was doing but I gave it a try. Once again, my network was helping me grow and learn.
Since 2014, I have published several papers with these professors, whom I now consider friends. They both have been incredibly influential in helping me become a full-time professor, and they continue to support me today.
My professional network of one back in 2009 has grown dramatically and each position I have held since 2010 has been at least partially influenced by my network. I’ve come to both embrace learning from my network and welcome opportunities to grow with my network.
Over the last eight years, I’ve been greatly supported by my network and have since been able to help many others find jobs and career opportunities. You know what I’ve found since starting to support my own network? The more I give to my network, the more I seem to get back.
Your network will show you opportunities you never considered. They will help you advance in your career. They will open your eyes to things you never knew you cared about.
Support your network and let your network support you. Doing so is a win-win for all.
We’re in this together.