In my experience, the most useful professional contacts appear at the nexus of personal and professional life. Upon arriving in Korea, I became increasingly involved in a social mountain biking club called Mountain Bike Korea. At the annual campout event in 2010, I met two people who would transform both my personal and my professional lives. One of these new friends ended up using his connections to arrange for me an interview for a coveted university teaching position. Although my credentials were lackluster compared with many of the other candidates, that personal referral landed me across the table from the interviewers, giving me the chance to show them that I had more to offer beyond the lines of text on my resume. The interview I was granted only through this connection was enough to convince the staff to bring me onboard for the start of an ongoing seven-year career in tertiary education.
The other contact I met at that fateful campout owns an outdoor sports tour company in Korea. He believed in my ability on the bike and decided to sponsor me as an athlete on his mountain bike racing team. The funding, support, and community the team provided allowed me to bring my performance to a level I hadn’t reached before, resulting in a prize-studded seven-year career of podium finishes in local and national races. Advancing age and injuries eventually caused me to leave the racing scene, but the professional opportunities didn’t end there. Along with the contacts I had made through the team, I have started a small bike-guiding tour business, and we now work together doing what we love while providing a service for bike enthusiasts residing or visiting Korea.
These two cases are just drops in the bucket of what personal connections have done to enhance my life. When it comes down it, organizations are all just intricately arranged groups of normal people just like you and me. The best way to gain access to the group is the same as that used to access the person – a warm smile, a kind word, and an outgoing attitude. These traits can only be truly communicated through direct, personal interactions, but the payoff can be life-altering.