How to Network Effectively

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We’ve all heard the phrase – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know – but how many of us work as hard at building and maintaining social networks as we do at building our knowledge?

I was at a dinner party the other night and this guy was talking about how he got his job as an investment banker. He explained how a family friend had got him a job at a bank, and a year later, a friend of a friend had got him a job with one of the most prestigious investment firms in town. This guy now has a high-paying and respectable job without ever stepping foot inside a classroom nor is he feeling the crushing anxiety of a massive student loan debt looming overhead. Is this kind of story becoming increasingly common in today’s market?

In the board game, Life, you start by choosing one of two paths – Go to school or go immediately into the workforce. The path of school takes longer, but it comes with greater rewards. What’s not built into the game is networking.

The reality is that having a vast network drastically tips the scales in your favour. Although education and credentials are still highly valued, most jobs never get posted to the public. If a job opening comes up, the first thing a company will do is ask, “Who do you know?” or “Do we have someone that can do this?”

Hiring is a huge burden to a lot of companies with no guarantees of what they are going to get. A familiar face who is already settled securely in the company is much more likely to land  the new job over the next Joe Blow entering with a clean shave.

That is why networking is so important. The larger your network, the more access to opportunities you have.

Mark Granovetter of Johns Hopkins University published a paper called, “The Strength of Weak Ties” and his research found that weak contacts, even distant acquaintances, are often more powerful sources in our network than close friends.  According to the study, in more than 80% of the time, people found jobs through weak connections.

The Goals of Networking are to:

  • Meet new people
  • Maintain connections
  • Create opportunities
  • Do something for somebody

At the same dinner party, I was talking with a fellow writer. At no point was she fully engaged in the conversation. She kept looking around, almost as if she was looking for someone more important to talk to. This is considered rude and offensive. When you talk to people, be engaged and develop a positive rapport. Good networkers don’t assume anything, and they never judge a book by its cover.

The Rules of Engagement

Networking is not about strong-arming people into talking with you or collecting as many business cards as you can – be subtle about it.

Being a good networker involves being a good conversationalist.

  • You don’t always have to talk about business – ask questions and demonstrate an interest in the other person. This will develop a good rapport and may allow you to learn something new.
  • Be interesting, have things to talk about, have opinions on things, stay up to date with current events, be a good listener. Essentially, be the type of person that you would want to meet at a party or event.
  • Selling yourself does not mean that you just talk about yourself and boast about your achievements; this will actually do more damage than good.

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