Question: This may be a dumb question, what is networking and why should I care?
Answer: Not a dumb question at all – it is important that we agree on the definition of networking first. According to Dictionary.com, network, when used as a verb without object, means “to cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position.” Some call it informational interview. Personally, I like to define it as “result-oriented professional relationship-building” because it paints a picture of networking by negation:
Result-oriented means that casual chatting with no purpose is NOT networking;
It has to be within the professional context, therefore asking a girl/guy out on a date is NOT networking;
Relationship-building implies that it is NOT a one-off transaction but rather long-term in nature.
Now that we have a basic idea of what networking is. Let us talk about why anyone, job seekers, in particular, should regularly network. Below is a list of networking benefits:
Get career advice and insights from experienced professionals from industries you are interested in
Acquire knowledge of specific sectors, companies, teams and positions
Expand your professional network
Improve your communication and interview skills
Get introduced to other professionals and opportunities
Land referrals and interviews
Although networking can work wonders in the long run (i.e. 2+ months not 2 days), I want to emphasize that desperately asking for referrals and interviews during the first meeting (something many networking beginners have done) is usually a bad idea and here is why. Just try to put yourself in the professional’s shoes: how would you feel if you meet some stranger for the first time and all he/she wants from you is a job referral or interview invite? You feel used and you probably think in your head “I barely know you and you are asking for a referral/interview that will put my credibility on the line? Are you nuts?”
Yet, again and again, I have seen people new to networking fall victim to this. They are so desperate to get a job soon that they forget about how to be empathetic and human. My advice, as always, is to keep in mind that networking, like almost everything in the business world, is a long game and being long-term oriented will yield 10x more rewards (think of it as compound interest).
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