While most have heard about the importance of networking, it’s often thought of only as it relates to finding a new job. But if you limit networking only to job searching, you’re limiting its utility; your networking skills decline and you may miss out on opportunities.
Your employer expects you to come up with innovative solutions. This is more difficult to do if you’re listening to the same people repeatedly. Networking can keep you current with industry thinking, teach you new things, and give you a cadre of sounding boards. It also makes it much easier to reach out when you actually are job hunting. According to Herminia Ibarra, Professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School, there are five common misconceptions that keep professionals from taking action.
Networking is a not a good use of my time.
When the benefits of networking are not immediately apparent, it’s easy to conclude that it’s not a critical part of your professional career, especially when others are trying to connect with you without a clear reason. The difference is how you go about building your network. Be intentional and reach out to people you’ve identified as strategically important to your agenda instead of responding to any and all requests.
Networking is not in my nature.
Effective networking is a learned skill. Proficiency comes through planning, practice, and focused attention. The amount of effort you’re willing to dedicate is directly related to your beliefs about “nature versus nurture.” It’s common sense that’s backed up by science. Research conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that if you believe that intelligence or leadership skills are inborn, you won’t put the effort into learning something that doesn’t come naturally to you.
Building relationships should be natural, not forced.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about networking. There’s an assumption that relationships should occur spontaneously among those you like naturally and that they’ll develop over time. “The problem with this way of thinking is that it produces networks that are neither useful to you nor useful to your contacts because they are too homogenous,” according to Dr. Ibarra. “Decades of research in social psychology shows that left to our own devices we form and maintain relationships with people just like us and with people who are convenient to get to know to because we bump into them often (and if we bump into them often they are more likely to be like us).” A good professional network requires strategic thought.
Networking is selfish and pushy.
Some professionals justify their choice to avoid networking as a matter of personal values. They find networking “insincere” or “manipulative,” a way of obtaining unfair advantage, and therefore, a violation of the principle of meritocracy. But this mindset implies that making relationships strategically is somehow unethical or unseemly. Others, however, see networking in terms of reciprocity and giving back as much as one gets. Interestingly, research has found that views about the ethics of networking are split across levels, with senior staffers being not the slightest bit conflicted because they believed they had something of comparable valuable to offer.
Strong bonds are the most valuable.
Close, high-trust relationships with people who know us well are certainly important. However, it’s not a given that relationships with people in the outer circle of our network are less important. The best ideas or job leads often come from those we don’t know well or see very often. That’s because our inner circle is more likely to have access to the same information that we do. We learn new things and expand our experience by interacting with people we don’t currently know (or know more superficially).
Networking is critical to developing your strategic thinking skills and ensuring your career success. Be aware of these common misconceptions so you don’t limit yourself.