Even the word “networking” can make people feel uncomfortable. It brings to mind the idea of using the people around you for personal gain — something most people don’t want to do, and certainly don’t want done to them. But if networking makes you feel insincere, it’s probably because you’re doing it wrong.
Despite what “meet and mingle” industry events may want you to think, networking isn’t really about swapping business cards and small talk with people who may one day be able to benefit you. Instead, it’s about building relationships.
It’s easy to dismiss internal hires and personal recommendations as nepotism, but it’s actually much simpler than that: Getting to know someone can help you determine whether or not they’re a good fit for certain opportunities. If you have a personal relationship with an industry peer, you can be more confident in their follow-through, their honesty, and their experience. You don’t have to simply believe whatever they write on their resume; you can rely on what you know about them as a person.
Don’t Be Selfish
Forming good relationships with people in and adjacent to your field can open up opportunities for you, but you should also make sure it’s benefiting them, too. If you’re worried about your networking seeming self-serving, here are a few tips:
Make sure it’s mutually beneficial. A healthy networking relationship benefits both parties.
Don’t focus on the results. Instead, focus on building genuinely supportive relationships. The results will follow naturally if you let them.
Start by giving. If you’re generous with your own expertise and resources, others will feel more inclined to be generous to you.
Networking, when done right, can make a career. But if you think about it only in terms of the payoff, you’ll be missing the forest for the trees. Instead, a supportive network is created by prioritizing forming meaningful relationships with your peers.