The Nuances of a Network

My favorite part of being a Search Associate with Spelman Johnson is definitely the cascade of colorful characters and amazing professionals that I meet every day along the way. While I am surrounded by a most incredible group of people within our firm, each position search also brings another batch of new friends, confidants, and colleagues into my world. I have to be honest: I cherish every single one of you, whether I only speak to you via email or whether we walk hand-in-hand through the process to a successful hire. Spelman Johnson’s primary goal is to match the right person with the right job at the right institution, but the greatest by-product of the search process is the network that it creates for each one of us. Not only are there highly qualified individuals whom I can circle back to for future job opportunities, but also campus contacts across the country with whom I can interact, get advice, and drop in for a visit when I am passing that way.

Do you ever stop and take time to consider the value and impact of a professional network? Let’s ponder the following:

  1. Have you ever been referred to a job by a professional colleague?
  2. Better yet, have you ever had a professional colleague give a reference for you without your even knowing it until after you are hired?
  3. Have you ever been stuck somewhere, say, due to a flight cancellation, and realized you knew someone in that very city whom you could call and ask for help?
  4. Have you ever been faced with a tough situation at work, and reached out to a colleague for sound advice?
  5. Have you ever conducted research on a project by calling or emailing your professional network for input?
  6. Have you ever been on a vacation trip and realized your friend from graduate school works in that city, so you pop in for a visit?

I daresay we have all encountered one or more of these situations, and the only way we find solace in or solutions to them is through our own network that we develop over time. It may seem like an extremely basic concept, as, after all, we work in student affairs, where relationships are at the core of what we do, but the bottom line is that there is great power in developing, nurturing, emphasizing, and celebrating the interpersonal connections we make along our career journey. That chance contact you make early in your career can quite literally have a major impact in job searches or other professional advancement later in your career.

You may only personally see people in your network infrequently, but that does not dilute the fact that you are connected forever in some way to them. As an example, I may only see some close friends once a year at a professional conference, but we pick up immediately where we left off the last time, and I know I can always count on these people when I need them (and they on me, as well!). One great advantage that social media has brought to the table is an ability to stay connected electronically between these personal contacts; while I believe face-to-face interaction is an absolute networking necessity and cannot be completely supplanted by social media, there is great immediate connectivity to be gained through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other platforms when you are unable to come together in person.

One final note of advice: never burn a bridge. Our field is too small to run awry of someone that might one day have some kind of influence on your career. The “six degrees of separation” is much narrower in student affairs than in many other walks of life, and the person whom you anger today could easily be the chair of a search committee or even your supervisor in the future, so patience, civility, and kindness should always trump anger, resentment, and outward hostility in every instance. As my grandfather used to say, a burned bridge will generally dump you in the river, and my advice to you is to stay clear of the proverbial river!

J. Scott Derrick

Search Associate - Spelman Johnson

J. Scott Derrick earned his B.A. in Mathematics from Furman University (Greenville, SC) and his M.Ed. in Student Personnel Services from the University of South Carolina. In a higher education career spanning 30 years, Mr. Derrick has worked at both public and private institutions, most recently as Executive Director of the Student Union & Cone University Center at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Previously, he served as the Director of the Trone Student Center at Furman University, the Director of Student Life at the College of Charleston, and Assistant Director of Student Activities at the University of Richmond. For many years, Mr. Derrick was an active member of the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), as well as the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA), serving in a number of leadership roles, presenting educational content, and leading interactive workshops. He recently served as President of ACUI, following a two-year term on the Board of Trustees, and conducted a number of Student Union consultations for the association.