Networking isn’t about who you know. Here’s what it’s REALLY about.
If you’re getting ready for graduation, or if you’ve already graduated but you’re looking for a new job, you probably know you need to spend a lot of time networking. But, do you really know what networking is and what it’s not?
During my teenage years, I was painfully shy, and I thought networking was a practice used only by the elite and powerful, a group I definitely did not feel part of.
What I learned was the opposite. Networking is for anyone and everyone. If you’re generous, reliable and willing to put in the effort needed to build relationships, you can be great at networking. This is true no matter where you’re from and no matter what your personality is.
Here are the 5 biggest myths about networking:
Myth #1: Networking is annoying to other people
How would you feel if someone sent you an email, told you she admired you, and asked for some of your advice on how she could be like you in the future? Would you get angry? Would you be annoyed?
Of course not. Here’s the truth: when done correctly and genuinely, networking is actually flattering to other people. This does not mean that everyone will welcome your requests to connect, but most people (especially successful people) love to share their success secrets and connect with other like-minded people.
Do your homework before meeting with anyone so that you can ask specific questions about their work, their goals, or their dreams for the future. You’ll immediately stand out from the “annoying” networker who just wants to talk about himself.
Myth #2: Networking is cheating
By networking with people in the sports marketing industry as a student in college, I landed a private interview with the Team President for the NBA’s Washington Wizards right before graduation. The team hired me for a full-time position one week later.
Yet when I interviewed for a full-time job with the franchise, they didn’t say, “Hmmm…You were recommended to us by one of our former senior executives? Well, in that case, there is no need to interview you. You’re hired!”
Instead, their thought process was, “You know one of our former senior executives, huh? In that case, we’ll take a look at your resume and give you a chance to come in for an interview to prove why we should hire you.”
Networking is not nepotism. You need to add value to other people and organizations or networking will get you nowhere. There is nothing unethical about engaging in networking to advance your career.
Myth #3: Networking is all about who you know
It drives me absolutely crazy when people say this because it cheapens the importance of presenting yourself the right way and building genuine relationships.
Here’s the truth: Networking is all about who likes you and who respects you. There is a HUGE difference between knowing someone (or having someone “know” you) and having someone like you and respect you.
Before working with you or referring you to someone else, a successful person is consciously or subconsciously asking himself, “Do I like and respect this person enough to put my reputation on the line by working with her or by introducing her to someone I trust?
If the answer is “no,” networking will get you nowhere. However, if the answer is “yes,” a young professional can usually get almost anyone to open his rolodex.
Myth #4: You should attend as many networking events as possible
All networking events are not created equal. Just like quantity of contacts is not as important as quality of contacts, quantity of networking events is not as important as quality of events.
In other words, going to one highly targeted networking event makes a lot more sense than going to 10 generic networking events. There is always value in meeting new people, but many networking events are actually a waste of time.
The best networking events are usually not called “networking events.” “Networking events” are usually just full of salespeople and desperate job-seekers. Instead, the best “networking events” are industry conferences or other events that successful, like-minded people in a specific niche or field will be attending for their own professional development.
Myth #5: Networking is only for extroverts
Your success with networking depends on your strategy, not your personality. In fact, being shy can actually be a networking advantage.
As someone who’s slightly introverted, I always go out of my way in networking situations to get other people to talk about themselves. Initially, I did this because I was uncomfortable being the center of attention.
However, I noticed something interesting. By focusing more on other people (instead of talking mainly about yourself), people end up liking you more and being more receptive to future collaborations.
Pete Leibman is the Founder of Dream Job Academy and the Author of I Got My Dream Job and So Can You: 7 Steps to Creating Your Ideal Career After College. His work has been featured on Fox, CBS, and CNN.