When I was asked recently about the value of networking, I was immediately uncomfortable. ‘Networking’ somehow brings into question one’s motives. At a networking event, am I there to meet people, to enjoy their company, to learn something new, or to fish for opportunities? And as I struggled with how best to defend my motives and my integrity, while also sharing how important networking has been to my career and my life’s adventures, I tried looking at it through different eyes.
Your resume is only one dimension of you
As a contractor, my resume is project-based, which means, oh so much longer than a resume is supposed to be. But, for this exercise, I took a look through my template, and looked back to projects that began in 1987. And then, for each project, I penciled in a number: the degree of separation. What was the degree of separation between how I got each project, and myself? I started with the most current projects on page one, and worked backwards. And the reality, for me, was quite startling. For the last several years, the answer was almost invariably one. Yes, one. ONE degree of separation between myself and the person who hired me. I knew them. They knew me. We had worked together before on a different project, and we wanted to do so again. As I flipped pages through my resume, there were also some twos. Someone else knew both my client and me, and put us together. There were no threes, and no fours; ones and twos ONLY. I have been incredibly fortunate. A contractor for more than 25 years, I have worked in more than 30 countries, visiting places from Andorra to Zanzibar, and working in many industries, from banking to pharmaceuticals. And there has never been more than two degrees of separation between what I could do, and what I have done. That’s what networking is.
Relationships are key
I like what I do, and who I do it with, and when a project is complete, there are almost always people I stay in contact with. These folks are now my friends, my colleagues, and in my network. But let’s take a direct look at the networking elephant in the room and under a really bright light. Networking is NOT just who you know. If networking is using the force of relationships for good, then we cannot ignore the nepotism and the back room deals, which are the dark force of relationships. The difference is really that simple. Are our relationships transparent, or are they hidden? I wouldn’t accept an assignment I don’t/didn’t think I could accomplish from a friend/colleague whose opinion of me was important. I wouldn’t recommend a friend/colleague to a different friend/colleague if I didn’t think they would succeed together. These are the people in my network. It’s not just who I know, but it’s about trust and confidence. So, back to networking. Not only is it easy, but it’s fun, and it’s one of the few areas of life that comes with a guarantee of success. I don’t actually think there is any real value in a networking event, other than learning. And as a committed advocate of lifelong learning, that’s a good enough reason to go to any event.
Networking is work you do… it’s not a calendar event
Go. Talk to people. Listen. Learn what other people think about something. About everything. I have never learned anything from someone I agree with, and I have never learned anything from listening to myself. But then again, that’s not networking. When some conference or lunch labels itself as a “networking event”, that’s just the event marketing. That is NOT networking. Networking is staying in contact with the people you have met whose company you enjoyed, whose opinion you respected, and whose integrity was worth aspiring to. Think of those who made you smile more when you said hello than when you said goodbye. So, call them, email them, link them, ENGAGE them. Engage them all every day. Find out what they are doing because you may need them again, or someone else you care about may need them. And share with them what you are doing, what you have done, what you want to do. They may know someone they care about who is looking for YOU.