By Mia Casey
Networking gets a bad rap – people often see it as a sleazy way to make ‘fake friends’, all based around this idea that you’ll one day be able to help each other out career-wise. Well, it really doesn’t have to be that way. Networking, when done right, is a great way to surround yourself with people passionate about your industry, who can provide encouragement and support throughout your career.
Ever ace an important project at work, go home to tell your flatmate/significant other/family member, only for them to totally not understand a word of what you’re saying because they don’t know the industry lingo? The people in your network would get it! If you surround yourself with awesome people who are excited about what you do, then you’d never have this problem again.
So why is networking seen as such a dirty term? And why should you be embracing it?
Why is networking a dirty term?
Many people are uncomfortable with networking for many reasons – some are just shy, some have issues being openly ambitious or career-oriented, and others feel like they’re taking advantage of the people they’re connecting with. When we view networking from this framework, it’s no wonder it gets such a bad reputation.
Read more: How to Network Like a Natural
The problem is, we’re told that networking is important, and the larger the network, the more opportunities that come your way. Unfortunately, what we’re not told is that it isn’t all a numbers game. You can have thousands of connections on LinkedIn, but if you don’t put the time into fostering those relationships – actually getting to know the people you’ve connected with – then you’ve built your network on a shallow foundation of self-interest. No wonder people think that networking is sleazy!
Sometimes having that sort of extensive network can be beneficial (maybe you see a status on LinkedIn advertising a job you’d be perfect for, or you know who you can reach out to if you’re looking at a new industry), but having a professional network that you’ve built up on a foundation of friendship and joint interests is pretty essential in today’s career landscape.
Why shouldn’t it be?
A great network should be full of people who care about what you do; people who you admire, and who you’d want to have a chat with regardless of whether or not they worked in your field. They should be among those who you reach out to when you have a career idea and need a sounding board, when you’re looking at trying something new at work but not sure where to start, or when you’re facing a problem at work you’ve never encountered before. And in the same way they can help you out, you can help them too.
Networking, at its most basic form, is about building connections with other people. And in the same way that making new friends at school or university can be uncomfortable, networking can be uncomfortable. It makes you vulnerable in the way all new friendships do, so people naturally shy away from it. And unlike the friends you make at university or school, these are people who you may not see all the time, so you have to put genuine effort into the relationship right from the get-go, as there’s often no opportunity for that slow build of familiarity.
The main thing to remember is that when you make a new networking connection, you’re building a joint resource bank – one that both you and your connection can benefit from. Like any relationship, there is give and take. In the same way that your friend listens to your relationship issues one day, and you help them move house the next, your network connections aren’t just a resource for you to plunder without giving anything in return. Always thank them for their time, be enthusiastic about your joint passions, and look for ways you can help them out. Basically, just be a mate.
So if you go to a networking event with the mindset that you’re there to make new friends, find someone who shares your passions, and who you’re excited to have a chat about your career idea with, then you’re off to a great start.
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.