The topic of networking has come up a couple of times over the past few days and it is clearly a word that carries baggage. Some people associate networking with those uncomfortable professional events where people thrust their business card into your hand before you have even finished the introductions. Or even worse it conjures up horror stories of outrageous nepotism or cronyism.
But the world works through networks. It always has. Building a network of people you trust and who trust you is the best way of getting on in any sphere of human activity. It needn’t be creepy. It can just be a case of making the effort to meet more people in areas of work that interest you and staying in touch with the ones you respond well to.
Most of us still feel that we should go through the proper process of applying for jobs, sending in CVs, taking our chances with the randomness of selection processes. But the best jobs are secured at least partly by personal recommendation and the more senior you get the more true this becomes.
Clearly there is a need to be fair and transparent but if knowing someone who knows someone gets you closer to the decision makers then that helps both them and you. I often quote Seth Godin who once said “Avoid the tyranny of being picked”. If you are in the position of being just another CV in the pile, rather than standing out because of a personal recommendation, you put yourself at a real disadvantage.
We are all now building these networks online. The same rules apply. The more interesting and smart people we connect with, the more opportunities will emerge. Part of our credibility comes from who we associate with and who is willing to be seen to associate with us. It is not just on the overt networking sites like LinkedIn. Facebook also makes visible the people we are willing to spend time with and how we interact with them. Even the people who comment on your Facebook posts, and how you respond to them, are a reflection of your character and can be used to make judgements about you.
This is all highly visible which can make us uncomfortable. But it also makes us more accountable. We need to make the effort to reach out and connect with interesting people. We need to maintain those connections and respect them. We need to be thoughtful about who we associate and what it says about us. In the long run I believe this will prove to be a good thing.