Misconceptions About Networking
Posted by The Editors on May 6, 2011
A timid young woman named Jane
Found parties a terrible strain;
With movements uncertain
She’d hide in a curtain
And make sounds like a rabbit in pain.
If Edward Gorey’s limerick above strikes us as funny, it’s because there’s a little bit of Jane in many of us. A lot of people avoid networking because they think of it as difficult, distasteful, or even a little sleazy. These objections may seem fair enough, but they’re based on several pernicious misconceptions about networking:
1. “I’m too busy to network.”
Many people don’t like to admit that they’re good at networking, because they’re concerned that other people might think of them as slackers who spend their time chatting or plotting career moves instead of working. Networking is not a substitute for hard work, but it does make your hard work more visible and thus leads to wider recognition. If the idea of laboring in obscurity at the same job for years appeals to you, you can put this guide away. But if you want your efforts to be acknowledged and rewarded in proportion to their merit, you need to ensure that others notice your performance and spread the good word.
Networking is also an invaluable time-saver. For example, if you’re new at your job and losing sleep over your first presentation to top executives, stop agonizing and start collecting pointers and constructive feedback from your network. If you’re swamped with more work than one person can handle because of the company’s hiring freeze, you can tap your network to find a capable intern to help. And don’t overlook the personal time and cost savings networking can offer: A few questions may be all it takes to find competent child care, a needed part for your obsolete printer, a reliable moving company, someone to buy your old car, or a bargain plane fare for your long-overdue vacation to Bora Bora.
2. “I don’t like being so fake.”
If the term “networking” brings to mind forced laughter at the annual company picnic or secret alliances worthy of a reality TV show, think again: That isn’t networking. That’s phoniness, and it’s no way to build a career (sooner or later, the act will wear on people).
3. “I know plenty of people already.”
There’s a world of difference between being a social butterfly and a shrewd networker. You may be able to get 100 people to come to a party at your place on a moment’s notice, but the same people who will help you mix margaritas may not be helpful in getting you interviews at management consulting firms. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of person who maintains a good-sized posse, then you may already have many crucial networking skills—you just need to apply the skills to the task. Ask the right questions of the people you already know. They may be more connected than you realized. Also, someone you’ve known casually for years may never have suspected that you were a latent management consultant. With a little effort, you should be able to build a career-related network to rival your social circle.
4. “My father owns the company; I don’t need to network to get a job.”
If you plan to stay at Dad’s company, and Dad intends to hand over the reins one day, then you don’t need to network to keep your job. But you do need to network to expand the business. If Dad has built a successful business, he had to develop a network to get there. You’ll inherit some of his contacts, but others will eventually retire or move on for other reasons. By expanding your resources, you help protect the business against downturns and position it for greater success.
5. “Why would anyone be interested in helping someone they don’t even know?”
If you can’t imagine circumstances under which it would give you pleasure to help someone starting out in your field or assist in a colleague’s career advancement, then this book is probably not for you. It feels good to be a hero, or at least a friend, once in a while. Many successful people feel gratitude for their success, and the desire to give something back is universal. But helping someone can also involve self-interest—it boosts your reputation and creates a future ally. So it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s often the smart thing to do.