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New Rules of Networking

"Network, network, network." Chances are high that someone is going to say those exact words to you at some point in your education and career. And with good reason -- networking matters.

But what exactly does networking mean?

Author Randall Craig has written about networking. He says that it's smart to start by defining what networking is not. Craig says that networking is not just making small talk, despite people thinking that's what it is a lot of the time. And he says it's not simply getting someone to introduce you to their connections.

"What networking is, is developing your reputation, finding out how you can help others, and then doing it, and making it so that there's a deeper and stronger relationship of trust between you and the people you're meeting," he says.

So, why should you network? It goes beyond just finding a job. It can help you find your calling in life.

"[Networking] can give you support," says Craig. "It can get you a job. But more importantly, for students, it will let you know an awful lot more about what's out there. If you're trying to figure out what you're built for, what you should be doing next, networking is a critical component of that."

To build a network, it's important to pay attention to what the people you're talking with are actually saying. Go deeper, really listen; it will pay off later.

"When networking, I recommend that people invest their time getting to know what they have in common with other people," says Josephine Vaccaro-Chang, the founder and president of a women's networking group. "Once the other people know that you are sincere in helping them, they will be more likely to help you achieve your goals."

Craig says that networking is a critical component of getting a job. Many jobs aren't advertised. Instead, they simply become available through word of mouth, through knowing people... through networking. And it can all come down to simple numbers. Once the numbers in your network start to add up, your chances of finding those unlisted jobs add up, too.

"If you've got 100 people in your network, people you know are supportive of you, what if each of those 100 people... [gets] their network working for you? That's 10,000 people," says Craig. "So, is it easier to get a job with just one of you or 10,000 of you? Even if you don't have a network of 100 people, the numbers still multiply."

What about people who say networking doesn't pay off for them? Josh Hinds is a speaker and author who talks and writes about, among other things, networking. He says that those people are going about it all wrong.

"People who say having a network of people has never really paid off for them, a lot of that is because the only time they really tried to tap into these people is when they were behind the 8 ball, when they needed it, and they hadn't really built any goodwill. So, that wouldn't be any different than if you asked anybody for a favor and you'd never been there for them." Hinds says that networking is an important way to not only land jobs, but to find yourself being considered for jobs that you don't even know exist yet.

"In some instances, and I've seen this a lot," he says, "if a company has a thought in their mind that they might like to open up a position, or they just like what a person is about, I've seen them create positions based on having those people in there. Unless you're developing these relationships, you're not in the fold."

A huge part of networking today happens online through social networking sites like Facebook and professional sites like LinkedIn. But it's still essential to meet someone in person, and it's good to do it early on in the networking relationship.

"Meeting someone in person is very important, as you have the opportunity to learn how you can help others achieve their goals," says Vaccaro-Chang. "Once you have established this initial contact then maintaining the relationship via telephone or online is the most efficient way to keep in touch."

The Internet is an increasingly important part of networking, but one that has its own unique problems. For example, things you post on a social networking site may be inappropriate for people in your job network to see. But you may be connected with them on that site. Keep that in mind and don't post things that might get in the way of your job hunting!

"Too often, younger people are disqualifying themselves from positions because of the way they're using social networks," says Craig. As Craig points out, another problem is people gathering friends on sites like Facebook, but not having any real connection with them. It's not much of a network unless you're putting some work into making those connections count.

"Sometimes people mistake the number of Facebook friends they have with real relationships with depth, where people are looking out for you, and vice versa," he says. "Social-networking sites are a neat way to categorize and connect with people that you know, but are those people really in your network? Have you really added value to them? Saying 'happy birthday' on their birthday is a nice thing to do, but all these other people have done that, too."

While you still need to have the skills to begin with, networking does matter. Do it in person, do it online, and do it appropriately: make it work for you!

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