A Primer On What Is Networking… & What Is Not
As trendy as “networking” has become, social networks, party flyers, and random strangers have led us to believe that it is interchangeable with socializing and outright solicitation. While socializing is a major part of networking, it is not the end-all-be-all. In fact, this belief is why many find their attempts at “networking” to be unsuccessful.
Noun. The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. (Merriam-Webster)
The main word in this definition is exchange. In an exchange, both parties give something to receive something, or in other words, the relationship is mutually beneficial. This refutes the belief that soliciting others for services or entry into a particular industry or field, without offering them anything in return qualifies as networking.
Rather than sending someone in your desired field an unsolicited tweet saying “Call me. (555)555-5555. I would like for you to help me get a job in XYZ.” You should try, “Hello, I’m Sue. I do XYZ well, and would appreciate the opportunity to help your company improve in such and such area.” This approach is more likely to begin a rapport; it starts with you offering a service rather than asking for a handout. No one likes to feel used.
It is important to acknowledge the other party’s career goals as well, and how you can help them reach these goals more efficiently. Bringing something to the party is just as important as the venue. When attempting to network, it is important to remember that there is a time and place for everything. Despite what the flyers for the “After-Work Social” may say, sometimes people do not want to talk business after several half-priced margaritas. And honestly, just because it’s a business mixer does not mean everyone has business. This is not to say that every beneficial business relationship stems from a formal setting, but do not be fooled by the boatload of “networking events” that are held every day just to get you and your money in the door. Research the person holding the networking event. Have they had other successful networking events? What does their network look like? Do they have a good reputation?
These are all important questions to ask, and while networking events are helpful, you can build genuine relationships with people by attending places and events that you are actually interested in. If you are a writer, you are bound to meet other writers at writing workshops, book signings, magazine events, and the like. Genuine relationships that begin from common interests have proven to be more productive than contrived ones.
During and after college, I found myself constantly working for free. Although I didn’t really do anything worthy of adding to my resume in many of these positions, one of the greatest benefits of this work was meeting and building relationships with people — and companies — in the field. These people had a front row seat to my work ethic, attitude, and personality, so when I began my job hunt, I was lucky enough to have industry insiders sending me openings, writing reference letters, and supporting me throughout the process.
Ironically, the person who was the most helpful in my job search was an executive assistant whom I didn’t directly work with, but always talked to in passing and occasionally in department gatherings.
After my internship ended, we kept in touch via email, and when positions matching my interest came up, she was sure to contact me. She even went as far as editing my resume, and personally submitting it to the hiring manager. As grateful as I was for her help, I never expected it. I simply thought she was a nice person and enjoyed talking to her. This experience reminded me how important it is to respect and be polite to everyone from the doorman to CEO, because you never know who can or will help you on your journey to your best self.
My hope is the next time you hear “networking,” you don’t automatically think about successful people and what they can do for you, but instead you think of building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships. By exposing yourself to different events and happenings in your field, being polite, and having an attitude of service, you are destined to meet some really cool people, learn a few new things, and strengthen your network.