“Do I HAVE to do it?”
“What if I don’t KNOW anyone!?”
“I HATE it! My experience should speak for itself!”
We constantly read about networking. It is the secret to cracking into the “Hidden Job Market,” getting that new deal, linking into a killer contact to land that new promotion, etc. Yet most of us don’t have a clue how to do it. What’s more, the vast majority of us are likely to be either frightened or disgusted by the thought of “influence peddling” to get what we really want and deserve – a chance to move ahead.
No, not really. There are, however, some significant misunderstandings and misapplications of this unfairly maligned process that need to be addressed before we move on to the how-to portion of our little discussion. Let’s call them networking myths.
|Networking Myth #1Networking is dead. People have been using it for so long that no one has time to talk to anyone anymore. They know you’re after something and they don’t have it. Go away!|
Nope, networking isn’t dead. If it doesn’t work, it may be that you don’t understand the very nature of the networking process. To be sure, there are people out there who have abused the process, wasting others’ time and manipulating relationships to get what they want, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t network both effectively and professionally.
|Networking Myth #2Networking is telling everyone, everywhere, all the time, what you need. Don’t stop until someone gives in. The more people that know what you want, the higher the likelihood that someone provide it to you.|
Wrong again! Telling everyone you need something from them is a good way to start a career as a hermit. Most people will not be aware of opportunities right away and are likely to feel that they are “put upon” to help you. What is more, they may actually feel that they can “catch” your dissatisfaction bug. It’s much more effective (and positive) to seek information and advice.
|Networking Myth #3Networking is pretending to be interested in people until they like you, then going for the vocational jugular. Ask them for help while you have them warmed up.|
Oh, please – people are smarter than that! Individuals who try to practice this mangled type of networking will soon be “blacklisted” by every potential networkee out there. A genuine desire to learn from others is the only way to make networking work for you.
|Networking Myth #4Networking is the ultimate answer. It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know.|
Wrong again! Although extraordinarily effective, networking is only a part of effective career development. It’s a very important part, to be sure, and something that should command a large percentage of your time. The what / who you know issue is an important one. If you have nothing to offer, and know everyone out there, you are likely to remain dead in the water. Conversely, if you are replete with knowledge and ability and are a complete unknown, you will also be vocationally adrift. Networking allows you to create the “positive visibility” you need to identify opportunities and generate serendipity.
|Networking Myth #5You need to have killer contacts, people in the corridors of power with whom you are on a first-name basis to be an effective networker.|
Sorry, not true. Our experience has shown that the most effective networking contacts are frequently NOT the members of the “Star Chamber,” but typically people you have not spoken to in a while. My clients have also found that many of their best results come from people who would not appear to be at the top of the corporate ladder. This is not to say that networking with movers and shakers is a waste of time, but effective networking with all sizes and shapes of people from diverse walks of life has the potential to yield extraordinary results.
|Networking Myth #6Networking is a means to an end. Once you have what you want, you can cut out all of this networking nonsense.|
Try again! Networking, the exchange of ideas and opinions, the give and take of sharing perspectives, should be a lifelong endeavor. Developing and growing your network throughout your work and life (networking does not have to relate only to career development) will continue to enrich you personally and professionally, while providing opportunities for you to help others.
The Key to Effective Networking
There is one, honestly! A single word that covers all that can and should be involved in the networking process. Are you ready? Here it is: DIALOGUE. If you look it up in a dictionary, you will find that dialogue means “an exchange of ideas or opinions” (American Heritage Dictionary). Did you notice the word “exchange?” Networking is a give-and-take interaction. Each party has to have something to offer. We admit that, in the beginning, you may have little to give and more to get. You can, however, initially offer your desire to learn, to hear someone else’s story, to consider another perspective. Virtually everyone, when given a true opportunity to share his or her insights, will rise to the occasion. This may be how you start the dialogue. In subsequent contacts, you may share an idea of yours, recommend a book or an article you read, send them an e-mail about a concert or event coming up that they have an interest in, etc.
Give and take. Listen and talk. Any networking session you leave without offering something in return is not a good one. Phone calls and e-mails also count, by the way. Building relationships through constantly cultivating and expanding your network (both in person and online) not only allows you to stay plugged into the world of work and beyond, it provides opportunities for you to give back to your networkees (and others) in appreciation for all of the help that you’ve received.
So get networking!