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If there is one word I’ve always hated, it’s “networking.” Why it is necessary to give a special official-sounding name to going someplace and talking to people about things? That’s all “networking” is, with the added implication that while talking to people about things you’re forging connections that will help you in your career or business. It’s not the same as just “hanging out” or “socializing.” In fact, “networking” happens not because you legitimately enjoy another person’s company and have nothing superficial to gain from making contact with them. You network to gain something. How is this a positive thing?

The other day I noticed that someone I met at an event had requested me on Facebook with a special “networking profile.” Instead of the usual “this is my life” type of page that a person would use to share his or her life with friends through, this dude’s profile was bare bones and laid out more like a resume. All of the photos were from networking events, and he was clean-cut and stern-looking in his profile picture. Just a few clicks away was his real profile, which came up as a “suggested friend” for me (an inevitability I guess he hadn’t thought through). In that profile picture he was wearing a backwards cap and a “what’s up?” smile while throwing up deuces.

Aside from his commission of a throwback photo opportunity foul with the deuces throwing, this guy’s approach really rubbed me the wrong way. I have no open positions to hire him for and we’re not even in the same industry, but he cast his net as far and wide as possible for the sake of networking. Knowing people is great, but what better way is there to say “you are not actually my friend” than treating new people like cards in your rolodex? It makes sense to limit what you share with the world, but how many “selves” should a person present for the sake of such a vague concept of potential business connections?

 

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  • Natalie H

    Unfortunately, I face this negative view of networking all the time. I think people are a bit unaware of the point of networking. It’s NOT supposed to be a way to immediately drum up customers or find a job; it’s supposed to be a way of making substantive connections that *might* one day turn into a referral or an *opportunity* to apply for an open position. I once had a colleague refer to networking as being like karma; it will likely only pay off after a year or so, but almost never immediately. The idea is that you meet people (in your industry AND elsewhere too) that you feel comfortable interacting with. Over time, you develop a stronger professional relationship which becomes the foundation for doing business together. That “business” might be the actual exchange of goods/services and money or it might just be doing a joint presentation at a conference. Networking is not about monetary opportunities for the here-and-now. People who go to networking socials with the wrong ideas in mind end up in a room full of people looking for customers to hand them money or employers to hand them a job.

    For example, some years ago I went to a networking event at a conference and had the good fortune to meet a woman who was videotaping conversations between students and the visiting heads of international associations in my industry. She was impressed with some of my questions and asked me to keep in touch. The next year at the same conference, she stumbled onto me again. After catching up a bit, she mentioned an international political conference that would take place in France. She thought I was a great interviewer and asked me to attend, saying she could get me student journalist credentials for the entire event. I agreed, scrambled to find the money to finance the trip, and was off to Paris. That opportunity turned into my first overseas travel experience and ultimately connected me with a lot more international contacts. Not one of them has hired me to consult and I haven’t asked; that isn’t necessarily the point. They do, however, suggest me to their contacts – some of which have followed up with business for me. That’s how networking is supposed to work. When you know someone with integrity and a great product/service, you tell your friends and contacts about them. I do and so does my network; some better than others. Unfortunately, most people don’t know this.

    I network constantly, but I never stay in contact with people who make me uncomfortable or seem unethical in some way. I don’t want to do business with that kind of person and I will never refer them to my own contacts. I have a reputation to uphold. If you think about it that way and learn how to do it productively, networking is a great tool. Just like anything else, though, tackling it incorrectly or with misinformation is a route to disaster. I do workshops on this for new and experienced professionals all the time because I think it’s one way to keep the uninformed from filling networking socials with people who don’t know how to network and subsequently make the event less useful for everyone, including themselves.

    To your point about the separate Facebook profiles – that’s the product of a lack of training in how to use the overabundance of social networking sites for business purposes. I could make a separate profile for Facebook, but I don’t see the value in using a casual social site to connect with business associates. For that, I prefer LinkedIn. People make other choices, but part of your duty as a professional is to research and evaluate outlets for business dealings. Facebook is primarily for friends, not business partners.

    • Pat

      I totally co-sign..

    • MarloweOverShakespeare

      “People make other choices, but part of your duty as a professional is to research and evaluate outlets for business dealings. Facebook is primarily for friends, not business partners.”

      I believe this too. But if this is so, shouldn’t employers keep their eyes off of potential and current employees Facebook profiles? I think if everyone believed that Facebook profiles were primarily for friends and not business partners we wouldn’t see so much firing happening due to non-professional activities/indiscretions/sightings viewed on Facebook profiles; hence the the problem addressed by the author.

    • thinkpink

      Thanks Natalie. That was a really helpful and insightful comment.

  • MarloweOverShakespeare

    The problem with networking today is that like degrees, doing it/getting it isn’t an employment guarantee. Just a professional way to make acquaintances.

    Another thing about networking is it isn’t just limited to conferences and parties related to your field. Your church, family (cousins that work for who you’d never guess), barbershop/hair salon, school, gym, etc, etc are filled with people you can establish connections with, both personal and professional. This is why one of the common tips for graduates is, “Be nice (I say cordial) and courteous to everyone you meet.” You never know who you might need.

    My little ‘network’ discovery – I have a friend who I just found out wants to be a wedding planner – someone I’ll definitely keep in my circle for a while.

    If you’re in college, find out what your friends are great at and DON’T lose touch!

  • apple

    Networking is pointless if the person isnr willing to help you out. It doesn’t matter if you can sh*t gold, the person with the connections will still give that job or word in for their cousin/sister/relative/close friend who didn’t have to network with . I learned that 3 times the hard way

  • DreamJ

    YES!!! I thought I was the only person who felt weird about networking.. I´m just not the type of person to fake it to make it or have superficial bonds with someone because I feel like theres no loyalty there and you become almost a slave and have to be on good terms with this person or group of people just to maintain a certain status… This is huge at my school and I just cant get it with it.. smh