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What is Networking?
What do you think when someone mentions 'networking'? Does your mind go blank as if you're trying to hold a conversation with someone you know nothing about? Maybe you don't think you're a fan - after all, isn't networking just for slick, fast-talking types who are good at getting what they want from people?
Well, we're here to show you otherwise. Let's see how a spot of networking every now and again could make your life so much easier.
How to win friends and influence people
Yes; that's stolen from the eponymous book, but there's a reason for that. Quite simply, this is exactly what networking is. It's not about using people - it's about strategically creating a number of mutually beneficial business relationships and seeing where it gets you. Don't expect to meet your new best friend or significant other this way, but hey; you never know, right? In all honesty, you're probably networking to some extent even now.
Networking is especially relevant to a career-focussed site like ours, because it can be an easy way to take a step up the job ladder. Not only that, but networking itself is considered a very relevant soft skill in most occupations - so in terms of job-seeking it's kind of like a dream within a dream within you get it.
It's not what you know
Now we've ascertained that networking isn't just about using people, it sort of begs the question of what is it about then? Well, the key thing here is to meet people, meet more people and then keep on meeting them. You really can't rest on your laurels - instead, you should be hoping that every new contact leads to another new contact. Although this might not end up being the case, having a large network is no bad thing, and you never know what's coming around the corner.
Don't assume that you're going to just walk up to people, ask bluntly for them to give you a job, and they're going to do it - because that's not what networking is about at all. What you're going to do is converse with people and try to ascertain whereabouts you are both located within your industry. Once you've done that, you should have a better idea of what you can do for each other. It sometimes helps to memorise a number of 'target questions' that you want to get answers for and try to work them into your initial networking conversations.
Breaking the myths
So these aren't perhaps up to urban legend status just yet, but there are a few misconceptions about networking that you probably need to break through before you can really see its value. The biggest of these is that there's little point in networking because you'll never be able to get into contact with the top people in your industry.
We wouldn't be so sure. Other than the fact that we're generally positive types here at Agency Central, we'd like to remind you of a little idea called Six Degrees of Separation. In a nutshell, this theory states that every living individual on Earth is connected by no more than five others - or friends of friends if you like.
If you believe the theory, you should be able to tunnel your way through to just about anyone on Earth with enough networking. It seems a little far-fetched at first, but when you think about it a bit well why not? The world is getting smaller after all.
Participate in conversations and groups when you've got something constructive to say, and don't forget to help other people out when you get the opportunity
A second misconception is that you actually have any need to meet these leading individuals in the first place. Oh of course, it's probably useful to be on first name terms with the likes of Richard Branson or Warren Buffett, but the time you'd spend trying to finally break through those six degrees between you could probably be better spent getting a 'foot in the door' somewhere else and working with some rising stars.
Don't forget that networking doesn't even have to take place in the same room, or even country as another person in order to be effective. With the advent of online social networking, meeting new people can begin as easily as logging in and clicking a button.
Get yourself on LinkedIn and Twitter and start following people. No, not literally - what you want to do is listen to what they are saying! Participate in conversations and groups when you've got something constructive to say, and don't forget to help other people out when you get the opportunity - because like we say, that's what it's all about. Remember to check out the article we published recently on what you shouldn't be doing on social media too, so that you avoid the many pitfalls.
Go up the inside
Finally, you shouldn't assume that networking has to be done externally - because it can be very useful (perhaps even more useful) when done on the inside, as it were. Even if you don't work for the largest organisation out there, it's still useful to know the people you work around a little better, even if they're just in the same position as you are.
The key is to do this in such a way so that it doesn't look like you're just sucking up to your superiors (because you shouldn't be anyway: it's creepy). In fact the same golden networking principle applies within your company that does outside of it; do things for others before you ever expect to get any favours yourself. If you're not prepared to help anyone else out, then why would you expect them to do anything for you? This really goes double when networking internally, because news of any reputation you gain for yourself - good or bad - will spread like wildfire through the idle talk by the water cooler.
You really can't rest on your laurels - instead, you should be hoping that every new contact leads to another new contact.
Next time someone at work does something worthy of congratulations, why not find a way of actually congratulating them? As long as you are sincere, you can be sure that they will take this the right way - just think of how you would feel in their position. If you were/are in competition with the person, then this works even better, because you will come across as gracious.
What you'll find is that by becoming more popular within your company, you begin to build relationships that you might never even have considered going for in the past - and that this brings with it a whole host of opportunities. If your company is worth working for, then your kindness won't go unnoticed - and if it does well maybe it's time to sign up with a recruitment agency and see what else is available to you.
Now we've eased your networking qualms, it's time to get out there and start flapping your wings like the social butterfly you're about to become. Hopefully now you also see that you can do it all without any danger of becoming one of those vacuous ladder-climbing types that everyone loves so much - because you actually want to be quite the opposite!
As Dale Carnegie (the author of the critically-acclaimed book mentioned at the start of this article) puts it: "you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you". If that doesn't sum networking up, then we don't know what does. It's all quite karmic really.