Too often, networking is the office equivalent of getting a root canal, right after tedious meetings and inefficient emails. You go through the motions of meeting new colleagues and connecting with experts in your industry because that’s what you were taught to do in college; not necessarily because you recognize the benefits of it.
If you don’t see the value in expanding your professional connections, you’re more likely to make networking mistakes. At the very least, you could be missing out on new career opportunities you might have learned about, had your networking game been up to par. However, your efforts in networking don’t have to sputter to an end with lackluster coffee dates and dead-end connections on LinkedIn. If you move past the lies you believe about networking and its purpose, chances are you’ll be able to move forward with confidence.
According to one survey, networking helped an estimated 41% of people find the job they currently hold. In some cases, positions are filled through networking before they’re posted publicly. It might seem unfair if your own networking isn’t up to snuff, but it’s a great reward for the people who have put in the time to curate their connections. When it comes to successful networking, you’re likely your own worst enemy. Stop believing these lies about the process, and you’ll be more likely to see success.
1. Networking is a waste of time
You could attend a networking event hosted by your alma mater, or you could grab dinner with friends you already know and like. While most of us would choose the dinner, it might not be a bad idea to put yourself out there to make new professional connections every now and then. Despite your doubts that making awkward small talk over cheese cubes and pretzels won’t lead anywhere, you will probably be proven wrong over time.
While not every networking opportunity will be a great success, focus on the face-to-face interactions to form stronger connections, venture capitalist and networking czar Rich Stromback told Harvard Business Review contributor Greg McKeown. “Networking” can happen more freely outside of planned events as well (and is often more effective anyway), so be strategic about who you talk with. Herminia Ibarra, Harvard Business Review contributor and author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, says to choose networking opportunities carefully, instead of filling your calendar with anyone who will speak to you. “Reaching out to people that you have identified as strategically important to your agenda is more likely to pay off,” she writes.
2. Networking is a natural talent, not a developed skill
If you believe that you’re either born with networking skills or that you’re destined to be a wallflower forever, you’re probably not going to push yourself to improve. But networking is just as much about strategically expanding your connections as it is being able to make small talk in a room full of people you don’t know. Networking is a skill you can continue to develop, whether you spend your free time surrounded by people or you’d prefer to read a book or garden in solitude. In the case of networking, your degree of extroversion doesn’t dictate your success.
One study shows that people view these types of skills and personal traits with a fixed or growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset take things like rejection harder, because they believe they can’t improve upon their personal attributes. People who are able to develop a growth mindset, however, take things in stride because they believe they can continue improving on attributes and skills. As Ibarra points out, having a growth mindset can help you find ways to improve your networking game, even if you feel uncomfortable with it at first. If you’re looking to continue growing but aren’t sure you can get past your introverted nature, check out these tips for how to get started.
3. It doesn’t take much work to create a strong networking relationship
You might believe that the best networking relationships happen with little effort, and come completely naturally to you. But Ibarra suggests that the natural connections are often too homogenous to ourselves to do much good. “Decades of research in social psychology shows that left to our own devices we form and maintain relationships with people just like us and with people who are convenient to get to know to because we bump into them often,” she writes.
Having diversity in your network is often key for long-term success, if you’re looking to switch jobs or are simply looking to expand the business reach your company has. To do this, you’ll need to be intentional about connecting with people who you wouldn’t normally interact with, Ibarra said. This could mean reaching out to people in different industries, or at the very least someone in your industry who’s a few generations older or younger than you are. “The more diverse the network, the more likely it will include overlapping connectors or linchpins that link people together in ways they never would have imagined,” wrote Entrepreneur contributor and BNI founder Ivan Misner.
4. Networking is inherently selfish
According to Ibarra, this idea is strongest among young professionals, who don’t have confidence that what they have to offer is valuable to another person. Instead, they believe they’ll end up taking advice and perhaps even job offers, giving nothing in return. However, Ibarra found that executives with experience under their belt believe networking is inherently a two-way street.
Let’s be honest, you’re networking so you can eventually move up the career ladder, get involved in interesting side projects, or attract extra business for your company. Everyone networks with the end goal of getting something in return, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a scummy practice, Misner wrote in another article for Entrepreneur. “While you shouldn’t apologize for being a product of your baser (and selfish) instincts, you need to be aware of them when networking for new business,” he suggests.
By being self-aware and realizing your end goal, you’ll realize what you would like from the other person. Allow this to drive some selfless actions on your part. Do you want your new connection to refer new clients in your direction? Offer to reciprocate in some way, or simply be completely engaged in your conversation with them — making eye contact and listening to what they have to say before jumping to your pitch can go a long way. Plus, practice will cure you of the notion that you’re the only one getting anything from the interaction. “My own research suggests that the only way to conceive of networking in nobler, more appealing ways is to do it, and experience for oneself its value, not only for you but for your team and organization,” Ibarra wrote.
5. Strong connections are the most useful
You probably believe that your inner circle of industry connections are the most important. And while they are valuable, it’s a mistake to overlook those second- and third-tier contacts, Ibarra said. “While these [strong connections] are indeed important, we tend to underestimate the importance of our ‘weak ties’ — our relationships with people we don’t know well yet or we don’t see very often—the outer circle of our network,” she said.
The people on the fringes of your network can be helpful in providing you with new information, another perspective, or even career opportunities you didn’t know existed. While strong connections are always likely to want to help you out, they also might have a similar knowledge base that you do. Making an effort to check in with people who you consider “weak ties” can only help you in the long run, Ibarra suggests.