What is Networking?

Networking is a topic I am extremely passionate about, yet I feel it is one of the more misunderstood concepts.  As someone that misunderstood networking for a great deal of my time as an undergrad student, I feel I have come a long way in gaining an understanding and appreciation for networking.  And you can too.

Definition of "Networking"

The dictionary.com definition reads as follows:

"A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest."

The key to this definition for modern networking is "a supportive system" and "common interest."  It is vital for both parties involved in networking to have a support system in place (ie. they are working together) in order for the network to be effective.  And, both parties must have something in common that they are working towards - it must be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Perception of Networking as an Undergrad

Nearly every business class I took as an undergrad consisted of the professors telling us to network.  Sounds easy enough.  First thought that came to mind was to go to the career fair and shake everyone's hand and collect their business card and email them to ask them how things are going.  That sounded like networking to me and I'm sure others have had similar experiences.  

The form of networking described above is not a great way to think about or practice networking.

Reality of Networking as an Undergrad

In reality, you have been networking for a long time.  Ever since you made your first friend back in day care, really.  So you've had a lot more practice than you think.

What did you do the first few weeks of your freshman year when you didn't know anyone in your dorm?  You walked around and networked with other people.  You found common ground and now those people are your best friends.  Those best friends are also your best resources to help you with projects in the future and get an interview at a new company.

What did you do as a member of a fraternity or sorority?  You networked with people that shared the common bond of brotherhood or sisterhood.

What did you do when you were at your favorite bar deal on a Thursday?  You networked over a few drinks.

While it may not appear to be so, networking is present in a lot of areas of undergrad lifestyle.  If you change the way you think about networking to be a social interaction where you are maintaining a relationship over time, networking seems more natural and less daunting.

Networking in Corporate America

Networking internally at a company is very similar to your experiences as an undergrad.  You didn't know anyone at first, but slowly, and naturally, your connections start to grow as you work on more projects and attend events.  This is how organic networking occurs in Corporate America.  As a result of gaining these connections organically, you can learn more about different departments and perspectives, or receive an introduction to potential new member of your network.

It is important to note:

You do not need to network just to network.  

I have spent time networking with people that I just couldn't click with and have since stopped meeting with them.  If you do not feel a strong connection with someone, stop spending your time trying to facilitate a relationship.  While networking is important, so is your time.

My Experience with Networking

I work hard at maintaining my network these days both inside my company and outside.  Each week I work to set up time with colleagues to reconnect over coffee or lunch to stay current.  I also strive to reach out to a friend that lives in another city every week or so.  While not always easy, it is always rewarding to connect with people and keep the network strong.  Additionally, people appreciate when you reach out to them.  I've found that networking and taking the time to meet with people can be something that energizes others and puts a smile on their face.

Thought Starters

  • How have you used your network to connect with someone you've always wanted to talk to?  Whether for a job, and interview, or otherwise
  • What tactics do you use to maintain your network?