In previous articles, we’ve focused on how pursuing higher education not only helps officers increase their knowledge in a particular subject, but also improves written and verbal communications, critical thinking and decision making, and other skills that positively impact job performance and transferability. And the benefits don’t stop there. Another tremendous advantage in continuing your studies, particularly in programs geared toward working adults and conducted online, is the opportunity for networking.
Professional networking is vital to career success in any field. Advice for job seekers routinely emphasizes the absolute necessity of networking to land a position; some experts claim that 70 to 80 percent of jobs are never advertised at all, but instead are offered to someone already in the employer’s circle or by direct referral. Even if you already have a position, maintaining a professional network of peers and subject-matter experts should be part of your strategy to stay current on developments in your field, keep informed about best practices and emerging research, and open the door to future opportunities.
The unique learning environments of online and adult-focused programs lend themselves particularly well to effective peer networking. Online courses offer increased accessibility to a geographically and demographically diverse base of students, while programs for working adults attract professionals with common interests and goals. Because the online environment facilitates collaborative learning, substantive group discussions and a high level of information sharing, students get to know one another better than in traditional lecture hall settings and are highly likely to communicate outside of class. If you are currently taking courses, be sure to get to know your fellow students and stay in touch with them. You never know — you could be taking a class with a future chief of police!
Establishing relationships with people who are working in your field of study is the ideal way to build and grow your professional network. Instructors at the college level, particularly in programs like criminal justice, have years of real-world experience and are an excellent source for finding subject specialists. Through research conducted for assignments, you can also connect with industry leaders and potential mentors. Besides reaching out directly via email, utilize online tools like LinkedIn (the world’s largest professional network) that make it easy to research, contact and interact with leading organizations and their principals. Seeking out professional groups on LinkedIn, as well as joining associations and attending trade shows and conferences, will expose you to even more top professionals.
As an extension of your studies, mastering and leveraging social media — such as establishing your own blog and Twitter presence — is another method to connect with likeminded individuals, as well as building your online profile and credibility. Posting relevant articles, leading discussions and providing resources establishes you as a subject-matter expert and curator of relevant information in your chosen field. Take advantage of free social media tools to share helpful links with others and stay on top of the latest industry news.
By making the most of your time in school to expand your connections, you are setting the foundation for academic, professional and personal growth. If you conduct your outreach strategically and maintain your communication channels, you are sure to reap the rewards time and time again.
For more information about how education can help you succeed, and to learn about programs designed especially for law enforcement officers, visit Education Connect.