According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, networking is the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
This morning I read a blog post by Tai Goodwin on the Careerealism website listing the Top 10 people you must have in your network to find a job. In the article, you’ll find a short profile of 10 different types of people you’ll find in everyday life in just about all business environments. I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn reading articles by top influencers in different businesses, checking up on the changes in careers my current and past colleagues are doing and connecting with people I’ve recently met and had an interaction with. I’ve moved around a bit for work and in my different jobs, I’ve worked with numerous people. I now have more than 1000 connections on my profile and a large percentage are not recruiters. Seriously, though, from those many connections, I can definitely identify a number of examples of the people described in Tai’s article. My hope is that my connections identify me as someone who is amongst those top 10 people. I strive to be a good connection to have.
But back to the question posed in the title of this blog post – Is networking necessary? In my experience, if you ask a group of people this question, you’ll hear a variety of answers with many compelling reasons for those answers. Looking at the definition from the dictionary, though, I believe that it is necessary. If you don’t cultivate productive relationships in business (and I’d extend it to your personal life too), then how do you propose to achieve any kind of growth or forward momentum in your life? We are all reliant on other people for something. We are all interconnected. In order to achieve anything in life, you need other people. By extension then, without productive relationships to drive , you’re just marking time, stuck in a rut and moving nowhere.
I’ve heard the argument that networking is a mercenary undertaking – people pretending to be interested in you just so they can use you. Sure, there are leeches like this out there. Sure, there are people only interested in themselves. Sure there are people who are all take and no give. Chances are, those people would not feature highly on your list of top connections. It’s unlikely that those people would receive a referral or recommendation from you. That’s because they’re not networking. There is no productive relationship with them. They are just people you know. The idea is not to go out and meet people with some sort of endgame in mind other than just getting to know them and working with them. If you’re thinking, ‘What can this person do for me?’ or ‘How will this relationship help me get a better job’ then you’re starting off on the wrong foot entirely. The best connections are those where there is mutual benefit that happens naturally. Often that mutual benefit has nothing to do with career progression. It might be that you get on really well and like the same movies so you can have an enjoyable conversation every time you meet. Equally, it might be that you work well together and all the projects you collaborate on are more successful than if either of you had worked on them separately. You just never know…
What you will find, though, is that as you continue actively meeting people and trying to connect with them in a productive relationship, you’ll have more opportunities coming your way through the connections. Also, you’ll have more connections to pass opportunities on to. You may be that person in somebody’s top 10 who makes all the difference in their lives because you’re a great connection to have. You need to be the connection you’d like to have.
All my jobs since completing my studies, have been influenced by my network. I’ll not bore you with too many details but here are the broad strokes:
- I meet a friend who studied with me in McDonald’s and ask about jobs at the company he works for. There happens to be an opening which I apply for. I’m interviewed for the job by a number of people including another friend who also studied with me. I had remained in contact with both of them after we had parted ways. Now we’d all be working together again.
- I met a colleague from another country at a training in Germany. We hit it off during a week when I experienced snow for the first time (a blog post for the future maybe). After the training we continued exchanging emails and phone-calls. There was an incident at that training which linked all attendees forever (again, a post for the future). About a year later I was looking for a new opportunity. I called him up – there was an opening on the team he was working for. I applied and managed to successfully compete for the role. Both this connection and other’s I’d met from this team all recommended me to the hiring manager after they heard I had applied.
- At a regional meeting, I met one of the senior managers in the organisation. We had a number of very positive exchanges around the topics being discussed at the meeting. His insight was extremely valuable to all of us and helped us make some key decisions that week. I spoke to him at lunch on the last day and described my career aspirations. I asked him for some advice about how to gain the necessary experience to compete for the sort of role I had in mind. He was very forthcoming and gave me some good pointers. About a year later, a role opened up in another part of the business. I hadn’t even seen it posted. But he thought about me and our discussion and recommended me to the hiring manager. She contacted me and asked me to apply for the job.
As you can tell, my career thus far has been greatly influenced by my network. My day-to-day work life has also been greatly influenced by my network – I enjoy my job because of the people I work with. Because of my network.
What is your network like? Do you have any stories you want to share about your network? Please comment.