Building and Sustaining a Professional Network in the International Education Field

February 05, 2012

By Martin Tillman

Marty Tillman Is there something unique about a career in our field? What are the qualities that attract a young professional to the kind of jobs that international educators hold on a campus, in a nonprofit or private organization, or in an association or government? Are there different approaches one should take to sustain professional relationships in our field?

Before crafting a networking strategy, we need to apply a working definition: It’s a process of developing professional contacts—or strategic connections—and building relationships for the purpose of obtaining field or sector-specific career advice and identifying related professional contacts. Are there unique strategies that apply to our field? Every profession has its own norms of behavior and patterns of communication and interaction.

In my 30-plus years as a member of NAFSA, I feel confident in saying that we are a gregarious bunch of professionals, easy to interact with, sensitive to differing interpersonal expectations when communicating across borders and in different languages, and quick to share advice and information with colleagues whom we might be meeting for the first time. Right? Think about your own early regional meetings and how quickly you were able to build collegial relationships with those at other institutions in your region. Think about the ways in which you’ve already created your network during grad school and in other venues to further your education and training in the field.

But apart from the obvious instrumental reasons for being widely connected in our field, what are the implications of growing strategic connections for your professional development and career advancement? I’d suggest these advantageous reasons for being very deliberate as you go about building your professional network:

  • Provides access to insider information and informed insights about the field.
  • Builds long-term mentoring relationships.
  • Provides competitive advantage in the job search process and interviews.
  • Results in clearer self-assessment of how a job is or is not aligned with your career aspirations.

Read more about the types of connectivity, how to develop a strategic approach, and the networking competencies that will help you build and sustain a professional network in the international education field.

What tips and strategies have you developed to build your professional network? How will you incorporate the strategies you have learned here?


Marty Tillman has been a NAFSA member since 1977 and recent chair of the NAFSA Task Force on Career Development Resources. He has over 30 years of senior management experience in higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations. Tillman is currently the president of Global Career Compass, an international consultancy; formerly, he was associate director of Career Services at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His consulting focuses upon the impact of education abroad on career development. An authority on global workforce issues, he is a frequent NAFSA speaker and regularly writes for the International Educator magazine.


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