“I hate networking.”
I hear this phrase when working with clients all too frequently, and it’s usually accompanied by the person claiming they’re not good at networking and need to find a way around it, because it’s simply not going to work for them.
I get it. I’ve also been that person dreading going to professional mixers or after-work drinks, not knowing how to get out of a conversation that seems to drag on a little too long, and feeling like I’m imposing on someone or have nothing interesting to say.
It took me years to realize that I had networking all wrong. As the name suggests, networking is simply about developing a network. It’s not about being a social butterfly or maximizing the number of networking events you attend. It’s about cultivating two-way, trust-based work relationships. And that, anyone can do. It’s also probably the single most powerful force, outside of actual expertise, that can influence your career—so you’ll want to learn to embrace it.
Here are four common misconceptions people have about networking:
Myth #1: Networking Is Slimy
Here’s the thing: Networking can be slimy if you’re only reaching out to people when you need something from them. But this shouldn’t be the case if you’re doing it right.
Going back to the definition of networking (it’s really about developing relationships!), a relationship would ideally be nurtured authentically around common interests, mutual liking, or respect. It’s when you’ve built that “trust capital” that it becomes much easier to ask people for help. You’re not overstepping boundaries, you’re simply asking for a favor from a friend—like you would with anyone in your non-professional network. And it’s a two-way street. That person can ask favors of you, too!
Ramit Sethi, finance expert and author of The New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You to Be Rich, puts it best: “Building real relationships is about investing in them first, figuring out what they want and love, and then helping them get it—not instantly expecting a magical job offer. In fact, most of the ‘networking’ you do will simply be helping people and getting nothing back in return.”
Myth #2: Networking Is for Extroverts
Everyone needs and can build a network, and in fact introverts can be just as good at this as extroverts, if not better.
One of my clients is not the most sociable, outgoing person, and he’s definitely not the type to thrive in large gatherings where he doesn’t know people. He is, however, smart, a good listener, and disciplined. So he’s incredibly good at networking because he plays to his strengths: He keeps track (in Excel!) of the people he’d like to keep in touch with and reaches out to them periodically to schedule one-on-one conversations (because as an introvert, he can connect better in tighter circles).
More so than any other personality trait, resilience matters when networking; in other words, the ability to bounce back from rejection or failure. Ultimately, the worst that could happen is that some people will not get back to you or be able to help you out, or that you’ll not connect with certain individuals, and that’s fine. It’s surely better than not trying at all.
Myth #3: Networking Requires Offering Up Something Grand in Return
Maybe you’ve said to yourself, “I don’t want to waste their time, they seem very busy” or “Why would [VIP’s Name] want to help me?”
But as a mentor once told me when encouraging me to reach out to people early in my career: “Well, you just need a little chutzpah!” You need to be confident in yourself that you’re worth investing in. More importantly, you have a lot more to offer them than you think.
Here are some of the things you can offer in a conversation with anyone:
- Your perspective and experience (yes, both are valuable even from someone more junior!)
- The potential that you will deliver in a new position: People who introduce you to opportunities gain social capital if you do a good job with it
- Your help: Asking “How can I help you?” is a good start
- Your contacts: Put them in touch with people you know who might be useful to them
- Your story: Many people genuinely enjoy helping others and becoming part of the story of how they charted their professional path
Myth #4: Networking Is Unnecessary When Your Experience Can Speak for Itself
I wouldn’t say this is a myth as much as an unnecessary impediment you bring upon yourself. Sure, your expertise might eventually get you where you want to go. You could craft a stellar cover letter or perfect your resume so that hiring managers can’t help but look at it. Or you could keep working hard and hope that one day someone off the street sees your potential. But why would you waste an opportunity?
The reality is that plenty of people in your life might want to help you progress in your career, but they can’t help you if they don’t know you, your story, and what you’re trying to accomplish. And they especially can’t help if you don’t ask.
Did I convince you to reevaluate your relationship with networking? If so, my challenge for you is: Rather than give in to the fear, lean into the uncomfortable. Pick a small action step—whether it’s scheduling coffee with that former colleague you like, or sending an email with updates to a friend from college, or simply putting together a list of people you know—and start networking today.