Building Networks for a Career in Higher Education
It was a lesson learned. During my first week in a new admissions position, two seemingly unrelated events collided weeks later. First, I was assigned to a committee where students voted for the faculty and staff person who provided the best customer service. The second was a meeting with the university registrar, where she asked me to be one of her “go-to” people. She offered that she would be my “go-to” person for all her responsibilities.
When the committee tallied up the votes for customer service, the registrar was the overwhelming favorite.
Her customer service did not mean a yes to every question, but it did mean every question came to a resolution and she made good use of her “go-to” people all over campus. No call was ever blindly transferred, no student sent away for a form, nor did anyone have to go from office to office telling their story and hoping for resolution. Not only did this make the students feel that they got good customer service, but they also felt successful, and issues did not escalate.
The registrar’s team of “go-to” people was extensive; it included someone in every academic department, student service department, and operations. People, not offices, was what was key. As a “go-to” myself, the relationship was reciprocal and I quickly came to appreciate it.
If you are new to an institution, you have the perfect reason to build your network. Here are five ways to help you get started:
- Start with a list. Set up a meeting with one person from each area to introduce yourself.
- Offer to be their “go-to” person for all your areas of responsibility. Give direct contact information.
- Follow your meeting with an email thanking them for their time and for being a part of your network.
- If someone is reluctant to be a “go-to” person for you, find someone else in that department; it can be another faculty member, it might be the department administrative assistant. For those that are reluctant, still offer to be their “go-to”.
- Create a list of names, numbers, and addresses. Keep it on your smartphone; you may not be on campus when you need it.
You become someone people can rely on, and you become someone people know understands the meaning of a student-first culture. People will see it and want to emulate it. I know I did.
The secret of customer service that people don’t want to talk about is that providing good customer service feels good. You get all kinds of satisfying mojo from helping someone out. What people also don’t want to talk about is that it can often take as little as a minute or two of your time.
To the student, you become a reliable resource, with a great network of people around the college. As you introduce students to this great resource of people, they too become more self-reliant and confident in making connections for themselves.
If you have been on campus a number of years, you probably already have a network. But it is sufficient? Do you ever find yourself wishing you knew someone “over there” better? Take the opportunity to meet new people and build out that list and fill in the gaps. Also take the opportunity to communicate directly with those that you already know and want to reinforce the relationship.
This is all about building on a student-first culture and providing good customer service. You can’t over communicate and your network can’t be too big.