If you’ve ever looked for a job, you’ve undoubtedly been advised that the best way to get a one is through your network. If you don’t have a network, all experts agree you need to get out and build one. This advice is both excellent and hopelessly useless.
It’s excellent because leveraging your network is the best way to accomplish just about anything. Whether it’s getting a new job, or getting your kid into an exclusive school, or getting movie recommendations, or dinner reservations, or anything, getting help from people who know and care about you simply can’t be beat.
But it’s also hopelessly useless because most people have no idea how to network. 99% of the people who write these kinds of columns haven’t ever waltzed into a new position because of their network. You know this because they give ridiculous advice, like telling you to go to industry conferences or meetings or simply “networking events”. And that’s it. That’s the end of their networking advice advice. But these kinds of networking events, by themselves, are essentially useless for building the kind of network that actually matters.
Why? First of all, unless you put in serious preparation time before the event, and then effort to engage people at the event, you’re unlikely to form anything but superficial connections with people. People don’t mix at mixers. They tend to find the people they came with, or the people they already know, and stick to them throughout the event.
Second, even if you do make some connections at one of these events, what does that mean? You’ve had some conversations, shared some ideas, maybe even provided others with some value. Then you exchanged business cards and went home. You think someone is going to even remember your face, let alone your name, based on that? You think someone is going to go out on a limb and recommend you for a job after that? Maybe if you’re Bill Clinton. But for most people, it’s just not enough.
But that’s where most career advice stops. Get out and network! Ridiculous. Obviously, meeting and connecting with people is the first step, but there’s a dozen more behind it.
To build a network you need to build relationships. All relationships are built on providing value. The more value you provide, the stronger the relationship, and the more the other party is willing to do for you. This is as true of intimate personal relationships, where most of the value (likely) comes from emotional support, as it is of business relationships, where most of the value comes from sharing ideas that grow business/profits, reduce stress, increase joy or time . . . and emotional support. Find ways to provide people with value. You don’t need to go to conferences or conventions to do this. Start with the people you already know. Start taking people you want to know out for coffee or lunch.
Meeting people is easy. Because it’s easy, it doesn’t mean much. What builds networks is value. Consistently provide people with value, and they become friends. And friends will do anything for you.