The uninformed will tell you that networking is only for sleazy loudmouths who have no time for junior-level contacts and strive only to hook big names. Don’t listen to them.
1. It’s crass. Sleazy, oily, unctuous—call it what you will. Many people consider networking to be inherently selfish and think that the only people who engage in the practice are no more than shameless careerists. Some of them certainly are; you’ll spot them working the room at your next conference, business cards and practiced smile at the ready. But take another look around the room: They are the exception, not the rule.
More to the point, they’re doing it wrong. The purpose of networking isn’t just to boost your card collection or LinkedIn connection total. Rather, it’s to forge meaningful relationships that you can rely on—and that can rely on you—for introductions, collaborations and referrals. There’s nothing crass about that.
2. Size matters. Well, not size alone, at least. A large network of weak connections that spans multiple industries might help you if you’re looking for your next job, but a smaller, more clearly defined relationship web is a much more powerful tool for driving business. Say, you’re a VP of sales at a SaaS firm. A well-curated and cared for network of customers and other niche professionals is the best path to new business and strategic partnerships. The right size is the size that’s right for you and your goals.
3. Extroverts win, introverts lose. Anyone familiar with sales talk will recognize the hunter vs. farmer dichotomy. Hunters (that is, extroverts), so the theory goes, live for the chase and thrive on bagging new connections, while farmers (introverts) focus on cultivating their existing network of deeper, more meaningful relationships. Both have a place on any sales team, and both can be successful networkers. The key is playing to your strength.
4. Only hook the big fish. Why bother connecting with someone who can’t offer me a job or help me land new business? One of the most frequently repeated networking questions may also be the most destructive. It’s based on the terribly wrongheaded assumption that gaining immediate value is the sole purpose of working connections. Yes, those who can help immediately are certainly valuable, but less so if they distract you from chatting up that junior analyst fresh out of school. Connections, more often than not, are investments, and when that junior analyst leaves to found her own start-up, you’ll be glad you put yourself in position to cash in.
5. No one wants to help you. “Hi Tom. We met at SXSW last month, and I really enjoyed your panel on mobile advertising. If you have a moment, I’d love to get some additional insight on that.” How would you feel if you found this email in your inbox? Annoyed? A little flattered? Maybe even excited about talking to someone who’s interested in your work? Fact is, for most, it’s the last one. And yet, people continue to think that asking for help only annoys others. Frame your request politely and make it clear you value that connection’s time, and you’ll almost certainly get what you’re looking for.
The Takeaway. A robust and well-curated network is the most powerful tool in your professional arsenal. Don’t let bad advice and the preconceived notions of others stop you from using it to the best advantage.