People love to hate networking. I get it. The process is not always easy or immediately gratifying. But I also think people who dismiss it out of hand are missing a valuable opportunity for personal and career growth.
Networking shouldn’t just be a means to an end. Rather, it should be more about seizing the opportunity to spend time with interesting people who are doing amazing things. The more of those people you know, the more they will stimulate your own ideas, which in turn can help you solve important problems.
The simple fact is that we need people and information to solve problems. Sure, we can get some of that from Google and Facebook, but we can’t get it all. When it really comes down to it, we ultimately make better decisions and feel better when we have personal connections.
Here’s a brief look at five networking myths I covered during my talk at the 2018 LSU Foundation Development Summit. This presentation was adapted from an article by Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader and Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.
MYTH 1: It’s A Waste Of Time
When you wrap up a long day of work it can be hard to convince yourself to garner the energy to head out to that evening networking event. I hear people all the time say they come home from these outings with a handful of business cards that never turn into real results. But the truth is, networking is about the long game — and it’s absolutely worth the time and effort with the right approach.
Think about your first job and your current position, then think honestly about how you landed each. Both were almost certainly heavily influenced by a connection you made somewhere along the way. Even with all of our modern-day digital resources and job search websites, most of us owe our positions to personal connections. In fact, 85% of all jobs are filled through networking.
MYTH 2: You’re Either Good At It Or Not
I firmly believe that anyone can be effective at networking with a little intention. If you can remember that networking is all about making a human connection, and act from that perspective, you can make it work for you.
For example, if you’re walking into an event with a large group of people and find yourself overwhelmed by the idea of striking up conversations with strangers, the first step to overcoming that fear is to simply pay attention to others.
Taking a genuine interest in other people, their talents and their skills will help you lay the groundwork for a current or future connection. If you struggle with breaking the ice, more personal openers like “I love your bag or shoes” or “What do you do for fun when you aren’t at a conference?” can help you strike up a conversation.
MYTH 3: It Should Happen Naturally
To do networking effectively, you really have to be intentional, and not just in the moment of a particular event. That means being strategic about your outreach, and not just waiting until it’s critical for your business or your career (when you change jobs, for example) to make the effort.
To spark new ideas and connections, try calling or meeting with colleagues or others who are doing similar work in other states or countries. Or make a list of interesting people who you want to spend more time with discussing creative and interesting ideas.
MYTH 4: It’s Self-Serving and Selfish
Networking when done right is actually largely about being helpful. Rather than just thinking about what you’ll get out of it, it helps to recognize there is a push and pull to the art of networking. Senior people need to take time to help younger workers grow, and we all need advice or help from others from time to time, no matter where we are in our careers.
It can be fun and gratifying to be curious, generous and useful with your time. When you help people with less experience by spending time with them or connecting them with others, you’re creating a path for them to have a seat at the table. It’s an important part of career development.
When business comes from our networking and relationships, that’s just a happy coincidence. If you’re merely networking with an end goal in mind, you’re going to be disappointed in yourself and others.
MYTH 5: The Strongest Ties Are The Most Valuable Ties
Most of us have stepped into a networking event and immediately gravitated toward the one person we know in the room. It’s a common behavior since most of our relationships tend to be with people who are similar to us. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it can limit our creativity and opportunities.
Seeking out new relationships can spark new ideas and connections that are valuable to your career or business, so make an effort to step out of your comfort zone when networking. Sometimes we have to bust out of our inner circle to grow and thrive. You never know which new connection will be the one that sets you on an entirely new path.
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