There are about five million articles out there about “how to network”, “how to build a network” and use networking to find a job. Most of these articles are generic and repeat the same things. I am not going to echo the repetition. You can get some fairly good insight from a veritable library of online resources. But I am thinking that the right way to network is a personal journey. Articles can provide pointers, but the building process is about finding the right ways and means for you as an individual. It’s not a prefab house, after all.
About networking, I can say from a personal perspective that when it comes to advancing my own career, I am not a person who is skilled at networking in the social and schmoozy sense. I have friends who are pros at this, making personal and genuine connections almost immediately, and I am in constant admiration. (I can turn on the schmooze in a professional setting when it is not for my own gain or self-advancement because then it is impersonal.) I have largely been a highly productive, behind-the-scenes doer who believes that the work product speaks for itself. But this is not really true. After many years, I believe that both the network and the built-up work reputation are important. (Not that that is a mystery or rocket science – it is just that I think maybe many people struggle because they rely too heavily on one or the other. I have known some who schmooze their way into situations in which they are way over their heads; I have been guilty of relying too much on the work and not being as driven by relationships as I could be.)
In the early days of my freelance experience, this was one of my biggest hurdles. I did not even have a personal, let alone professional, network because I was working in a new country. I knew no one. But little by little I met one person here, one person there, I awkwardly dropped hints about needing to find work, and eventually I had a flow of freelance jobs coming in and, mostly by word of mouth, had more clients popping up. This happened because I worked hard, fast and usually overdelivered. People remembered me, both when they needed work done and when others needed work done. There is a lot to be said for willingness and the inability to say no. Bottom line, though – when there are personal stakes and personal interest – or some form of a relationship – networking is at its most effective.
As the Lifehacker articles I point to explain, networking requires a personal and genuine approach. This means that networking is a two-way street. I have needed help, but more than that, have been first in line offering my help to others in their own professional pursuits. You’ve got to give to get – and being able and readily willing to reciprocate actually improves the networking channels. Everyone needs a way to get their foot in the door.
For me, as for most introverts, it is incredibly hard to admit to needing help or even to making the kinds of connections one could eventually turn to for help. Another Lifehacker article cites a New York Times piece that tells introverts to force themselves into in-person meetings and into small talk. Any introvert would react with something like, “What fresh hell is this?” It is also a bit too much like cold-call sales versus the kind of networking I would prefer to do – which is both based on my work performance and my own quiet, observational analysis of people and situations. I eventually prove my value this way. My approach to networking is the long-game approach.
Lately, though it has been many years in the making, this approach has really begun to bear fruit. At this point, people are coming to me without my having asked for help or having reached out at all. My network has become so strong and trusted that it spreads on its own.
The positives are adding up, and the first step was finally coming to a point where I could speak up for myself to say I needed help. When I needed it, help was there. It is not unlike the incredible difficulty of admitting a need for love, really. The whole concept of surrendering to some need that you cannot completely fill for yourself invites vulnerability.
In a slightly unrelated matter, of course admitting and facing what we really need can also be comical!
“We accidentally played a clip from the Al Jazeera America channel that was threatening to get inappropriately in depth about foreign policy. Obviously Al Jazeera America is new here and don’t know how we do things.” (From The Daily Show on 11 February)
We need real information and news, but we have managed to fool ourselves into thinking that we need to know the salacious details of politicians’ personal lives. We are blind and never focusing on the right things. And how this relates to what I started writing about in the first place? Well, we live in an era that makes heavy use of comparatives – and I spend too much time comparing, particularly the present against the past. And where that’s led me, now, is the path toward figuring out how to get beyond all the wrong triggers, targets and foci to get to who, what and where I need to be. And of course, in keeping with the generous and reciprocal nature of real and valuable networking, helping other people get to their right places as well.