The word "network", when used as a verb means to:
"cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position."
As soon as I read the definition, I realized why so many people struggle with this particular part of the job search. The definition is almost sleezy. It is all about what you can get from people and not about what you can offer them. I get it, climbing the corporate ladder is no easy task, it is a dog eat dog world, everyone must fend for themselves...YUK." I prefer to look at things differently. I define networking as a way to cultivate relationships among people with the intent of building EACH OTHER up. It is about learning from each other, having someone's back and sharing common passions and pursuits.
My biggest pet peeve in networking is being asked "what I do" or "where I work" as an introductory line. I am not my job and my job is not me. I am here to meet and connect with people and that is not the best opening line. Think of it this way, on a first date, do you really want someone asking you how much money you have in the bank and what kind of yield you are getting from your 401K? No, well to me these are very much the same things.
The easiest place to get caught in the trap is when you join a networking group or organization.
Networking groups are a great way to meet people in a similar industry or profession as you. Most people however get overzealous when it comes to the term "networking" and "networking organizations". The job market is crowded, competition is stiff. People see this, get scared and use networking entirely wrong. They use these orgnaizations to "pad"their resume instead of truly becoming part of what they are doing. Networking is all about what you put into it and the authenticity that drives the connections you make.
If we are going to do this, then we need to ask some questions to ensure that we choose the right networking group for us...
Here it is important to look for organizations that will help to educate, inspire, lead and nurture you into whatever your next step may be. This means you have to ask yourself some hard questions. I suggest some quiet time to reflect in a place that inspires you. (it's okay if it involves some sort of dessert or wine, I am not one to judge.) As you are contemplating these question it is key that you research groups that will work with what you are going after.
Networking groups vary. Many meet only once a quarter. (How in the world are you going to network like that?) Some meet every other day. (Who has the time?) But networking is about more than sharing a cocktail and trading business cards. It is important when doing your research to find a group that meets or interacts regularly enough to develop real relationships with the people in the group. You also need to be honest about how much time you have or are willing to invest.
If 80% of all jobs are secured through some form of networking, why are you spending the lion's share of your time on job boards? When you look at the landscape of your search, how much time are you committing to true networking? When you have a job you love, how much time are you committing to networking AND helping others? Both are important because you never know what the future holds. Reciprocity is key.
Everything you do with regards to networking should have a "why" attached to it. That does NOT mean you have to GET something out of every network but it does mean you should know why you are there. Driving with no destination in mind is a fantastic way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it is NOT however a great way to find your purpose. You need to attack it with intent. This doesn't mean you know where you will end up, but you should have a destination in mind. Don't jump the gun. Don't "pad" your resume just because it will get you A JOB. Determine what you REALLY want to do. Think it out, write it down, pray about it, meditate and really hone in on what it is you want. THEN, start your network. When you do this, you build with purpose in mind and the results become much more fruitful.
In the spirit of networking, leave a comment below with some of your favorite networking groups. To get you started here are a few of mine.