Networking or NOTworking?
The Merriam- Webster dictionary describes networking as ‘the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”
Business consultants and authors describe networking as a science or an art that can be mastered by reading their books or attending their seminars.
Clichés like ‘your network equals your net worth,’ define networking as a key to professional success.
Personally, when I was fresh out of college, after dozens of insufferable networking events; stacks of untouched business cards; numerous ‘thank you’ notes and countless follow-up emails, I would describe networking as a philosophy: a myth: a word that everyone likes to throw around, but rarely does with real success. I can count on one hand how many people I’ve met at a networking event that I’m actually still in contact with. Even
fewer have resulted in lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.
Like my post-graduate self, many millennials find the idea of networking to be overwhelming. These days every social function and activity involving two or more people is labeled as networking. It’s become way too complicated and time consuming: three words that are like nails on a chalkboard to millennials. Like I’ve mentioned before, as we become more digitally dependent and accustomed to instant gratification; our social skills, patience and attention spans are declining, therefore “networking” seems like an impossible task. True to form, millennials want everything and we want it NOW with little to no extra effort. So, we’re not going to read any books or attend seminars that claim to help “master the art of networking,” Socializing with our peers has become difficult and awkward enough, now we’re expected to socialize with generation X for the purpose of professional gain? We have to send handwritten ‘thank you’ notes? Like with stamps? You mean we have to communicate via email? In an informal tone? Using complete sentences? And double, sometimes triple email if we don’t hear back? And you’re telling me it could be months before these efforts result in anything, IF at all??
I’m sure I lost many of you back at handwritten notes. And I too was just about to completely wash my hands of the idea … that is until I entered the workforce in Los Angeles: the city that takes “who you know” to another level. After my first bitter taste of entry level job hunting showed me that a college degree; 3.8 GPA; impeccable work ethic and “impressive” resume weren’t quite enough, but the good word of a high-level industry exec is what gets you the interview, I decided to reconsider my stance on networking. Now, almost two years and exactly two jobs later, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid and I can vouch for networking’s street cred.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everyone. If your career plans are simple and don’t exceed a mid-level rise, then don’t bother. However, if you’re a wildly ambitious, high achieving (and might I add cute) young professional like myself, then you should know that networking, in essence, is very beneficial, if not crucial to major professional success. And, if done properly, could open doors and present opportunities that even the most immaculate resumes couldn’t. That said, networking does require patience and is a process of trial and error. So, in the interest of saving you a little time and agony over failed attempts, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about “how to master the art of networking.” Mano a mano, millennial a millennial:
1. There is no formula, there is no procedure, and there is no right way to network. You can’t “master” networking because it’s not en exact science. Sure, there are some do’s and don’ts with regard to standards of professionalism, but in terms of connecting with people, you have to do that whatever way works for you.
2. Avoid any and all events with the word “networking” in the title.
If you’re just up for some witty banter among other professionals and maybe an open bar, then sure, have at it. Have fun enduring firm handshakes all night. I hope your elevator pitch is compelling enough to stand out amongst the hundred others that are floating around, and that’s IF you talk loud enough to be heard over the dull roar of the crowd. You’re more likely to walk away with a hangover than a genuine relationship that leads to professional opportunities.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. No networking event experience is complete without the obsessively crafted follow-up emails; which take about 40 minutes to compose and must be read and re-read left, right, up and down to rid of any typos and convey just enough desperation to be interpreted as eagerness. But don’t hold your breath waiting for a response. Most likely, your literary work of art will go unanswered. It will get lost in a sea of much more important emails from much more important people than little old, entry-level you.
4. The best networking happens unintentionally
Deliberately networking is inherently counterproductive to ‘the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” How often do you develop a real relationship when you have the intent of developing a relationship? It’s true that most things come to you when you least expect it or when you’re not even looking. The same rule applies to networking. If you go into a situation thinking ‘what can this person do for me?’ or ‘how can s/he help me get a job?’ then you’re starting off at a disadvantage. You’ll be focused on finding use for that person instead of making a genuine connection.
5. Focus on connecting with people on a basic level
I’ve built authentic, lasting relationships with people who are twice my age and have reached three times my level of success. Typically, I would have nothing to offer them professionally, therefore little to talk about. However, I’ve connected with people through shared interests like a Grey’s Anatomy obsession or a love for fitness activities. These connections were built on common ground, and then progressed organically into productive relationships resulting in everything from job opportunities to exclusive event initiations. Some have even gone on to become mentorships.
6. As a young professional, it’s YOUR job to keep in touch with the seasoned professionals, not the other way around.
I’ve learned how to stay in touch with upper-level executives over years just by checking in via email every couple of months. But beyond a simple ‘Hi, just checking in,’ it’s more effective to stay updated on the person themself, their company, their business, or even something of interest that they may have mentioned at some point. Keep an eye out for that kind of stuff in the news and forward to them with a little note like ‘I thought you might find this interesting.’ It keeps them engaged in your relationship and shows that you’re not just reaching out to ask for a job. It could even provide talking points if and when you were to meet in person.
Another cool thing is to ask questions related to your business of interest. It shows that you’re genuinely passionate about the business and that you’re always thinking. I love to email my old hiring manager from Paramount Pictures with my questions about entertainment PR. It helps us to stay in touch and I get great information from a credible and knowledgeable source.
The more I write, the more I realize that this could have been divided into two different posts. So, I’m gonna stop here. But I hope that you found this helpful and are a little less overwhelmed by the idea of networking. It’s really not that bad, once you get to know it.