Networking Like It’s a Contact Sport

The world really is flat. Someone you know knows somebody who knows someone who knows someone who knows somebody who knows you! This is the “six degrees of separation”— the idea that anyone can be connected to any other person through a chain of acquaintances with no more than five intermediaries.

Networking, though, is a big mystery to most people, which is why they dread it so much and do it so poorly. If you’re one of them, you probably feel awkward asking for help when you’re looking for a job. The idea of reaching out to someone has all the appeal of cold-calling to sell knives like on a late-night infomercial. In panic and desperation, you jump into networking when you’re job hunting—calling people out of nowhere, even though they haven’t spoken to you in years. That’s a blatant misuse of a network. You cannot take out what you have not put in!

The truth is, networking is not about you—actually, it’s the opposite. Networking is about relationship-building, and relationships are not one-way streets. The best approach is to make networking a natural part of your ongoing interactions with people, by focusing first on how you can help them.

Networking means:

  • Getting to know other people, becoming interested in them, their careers and avocations
  • Offering to help others—e.g., being a sounding board or passing along articles or web sites you think would be of interest to them
  •  Commenting on their blog posts and helping promote their thought leadership via your social media connections

Don’t mistake networking for something you do only when you need something. (That means you need to be networking long before you’re thinking about changing jobs.) Rather, approach networking as the care and feeding of your relationships, and you’ll never go wrong.