Have you ever asked yourself about the real value of networking and why you should be involved with it? A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.
To put all the above in a few words, networks deliver three unique advantages: private information, access to diverse skill sets, and power.
Networking is an extremely important part of career development; it also reflects a natural affinity for connection that is common among most people. Not only that, networking well can help you feel more fulfilled in your professional life and happier in general.
Good relationships make one’s life better, and that is as true in your business connections as it is in the closer relationships that you clearly view as meaningful and valuable.
Highly diverse network ties, therefore, can help you develop more complete, creative, and unbiased views of issues. And when you trade information or skills with people whose experiences differ from your own, you provide one another with unique, exceptionally valuable resources.
Research shows that if you design and create your networks with trust, diversity, and brokerage, you can raise your level of information from what you know to whom you know and translate your dreams into reality faster. (For an example of how brokerage can work in a job-search situation, notice the accompanying story.) The story also reveals one of networking’s three key advantages — power. The extension of connections that networks enable, when leveraged intelligently, can be a powerful tool for career advancement.
Any work activity becomes more attractive when it’s linked to a higher goal. So frame your networking in those terms. Researchers found that attorneys who focused on the collective benefits of making connections (“support my firm” and “help my clients”) rather than on personal ones (“support or help my career”) felt more authentic and less dirty while networking, were more likely to network, and had more billable hours as a result.
We’ve seen this approach help female executives overcome their discomfort about pursuing relationships with journalists and publicists. When we remind them that women’s voices are underrepresented in business and that the media attention that would result from their building stronger networks might help counter gender bias, their deep-seated reluctance often subsides.
Andrea Stairs, managing director of ebay Canada, had just such a change in perspective. “I had to get over the feeling that it would be self-centered and unseemly to put myself out there in the media,” she told us. “I realized that my visibility is actually good for my company and for the image of women in the business world in general. Seeing my media presence as a way to support my colleagues and other professional women freed me to take action and embrace connections I didn’t formerly cultivate.”
Networks and the people with whom we spend our time have a tremendous effect on who we are and where we will go. Even our childhood connections make a difference in our lives. A study from researchers at Penn State and Duke universities looked at more than 700 kids in the United States over 20 years and found that social interactions in kindergarten affected career success later in life.
Likewise, research has demonstrated that children who experience secure attachment early in life are more likely to be self-confident, better working in groups, and, ultimately, more likely to be good managers.
Seeing the broad impact of relationships across an entire lifetime shows that networking is not simply a matter of grossly promoting yourself for financial gains or upward career mobility. Instead, it represents a valid and integral part of interpersonal and professional development that needs to be exercised in order to maximize potential success.
Remember, good networking is about succeeding by being yourself, and connecting with people you actually like.
Say you work in Payroll and Accounts Payable for 10 years. Your company is not doing so well and, unfortunately, you get laid off. As you search for a job, you see that a local gym has an opening in its payroll department. You happen to have a friend who has been a member of that gym for 15 years. That friend serves as a broker by talking to some of the employees with whom he has developed a relationship over the years, and puts in a good word for you. You score an interview and, in the end, the job, and the hiring manager feels satisfied that the company was able to find someone who came highly recommended from a valued client.
In that scenario, the role that networking played may seem like luck. You just happened to know someone who worked at that gym, and that’s how you got the job. But this is where it gets interesting. The more connections you make, the more people with whom you foster a positive relationship, the more likely you are to benefit from one of these “coincidences.”
Onega Ulanova | Co-founder, LA New Product Development Team