How to network is the real question. But first, in case you're a doubter, some quick proof that networking is essential:
Research shows networking is essential to staying employed, salary growth, and job satisfaction. It also makes you more likely to get a job. Via Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference:
In his classic 1974 study Getting a Job, Granovetter… found that 56 percent of those he talked to found their job through a personal connection. [The Tipping Point]
Networking also makes you more likely to be successful in a job. Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:
MIT researchers… found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. [The Happiness Advantage]
And networking makes you more likely to be creative on the job. Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:
…businesspeople with entropic networks full of weak ties were three times more innovative than people with small networks of close friends… [Imagine: How Creativity Works]
So why aren't there any good resources on the nitty gritty of how to network? And how to network in a way that doesn't feel sleazy?
Here are five methods from experts that you can quickly and easily start putting to use today.
1. First, listen to the best on how to network
Fortune called Adam Rifkin the most networked guy in Silicon Valley. He has a few things anyone can do to be a better networker:
(i) Do something every single day. Make it a habit. The more of it you do, the better you can get at it. Every day is an opportunity to get better, but do not try to do too much at once. Take the long view, and connect with at least one person professionally every day. Could be following up with someone you already know; could be asking for an introduction from a mutual connection.
(ii) Once in a while, think of two people who should know each other but don't, and introduce them. Follow through with them later to learn from whether that introduction was worthwhile, so you can get better at making introductions. Practice!
(iii) Imagine you got laid off today. Who are the five to ten people you'd write to for advice? Make sure to invest in those relationships regularly, not just when you have an urgent need.
(iv) Look at the five to ten people you've spent the most time with in the last three months. Are you happy with the way they're influencing you? If so, find another person who belongs in that group and invest in that relationship. (If not, change the way you're spending your time! How you spend your time determines so much in your life.) [Adam Rifkin]
2. Look for your "Superconnectors"
When trying to figure out how to network, it's important to know where to start.
Most people can track the majority of their contacts back to a handful of people. These are "superconnectors." As Brian Uzzi and Sharon Dunlap discussed this in the Harvard Business Review, investing in these relationships can make a huge difference.
Who helped get you your current job? Your previous job? Through whom did you meet the majority of your friends? Now track back.
After you identify your key contacts, think about how you first met them. In the center column of the work sheet, write the name of the person who introduced you to your contact (if you met the person yourself, write "me"). This column will reveal the brokers in your network and help you see the networking practices you used to connect with them. [Harvard Business Review]
These are the people you already know who are clearly able and willing to help you branch out. They should be the first people you call and where you invest a disproportionate amount of your time and energy.
3. Start an "Interesting People Fund"
Even if you do know how to network it still ends up costing money: coffees, dinner, and travel. How can you make sure you're able to do it? Like anything else, set aside money so there's no reluctance or guilt and you can jump on opportunities to meet new people.
Ben Casnocha, bestselling author of The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, told me the story of someone who created an "interesting people fund" — setting aside a portion of money with which to forge relationships:
After he committed to working at Microsoft in Seattle he had a lot of anxiety around all these relationships he'd built in the Bay Area. He took the amount of money that he was going to save living in Washington State as a savings off his income tax and pre-committed that to what he called "an interesting people fund" which was a fund to fund flights and coffees and dinners with interesting people in the Bay Area… Pre-committing $100 or $1,000 reduces the likelihood that when it comes time to actually do the thing you know you ought to do, you bail.
4. Do a "Five Minute Favor" every day
Top Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, offers a piece of advice on how to network from none other than the above-mentioned Adam Rifkin. It's The Five Minute Favor:
One of my personal favorites is probably Adam Rifkin's idea of the "Five-Minute Favor" (if you can do something for someone that will take less than five minutes, just do it.) A lot of people look at the idea of helping others and say, "Gosh, that's going to be time consuming, or exhausting, or put me at risk of being exploited." I think that Adam's idea enables us to a sense of, "What if I just took a couple minutes every day to try to help someone in a way that a small commitment to me, but could be of large benefit to them?"
5. Just be a friend
When it comes to business relationships, stop thinking about the word "business" and focus on "relationships." Ramit Sethi, bestselling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, thinks you should simply look at how you act with friends:
We all have friends who are just cool to be around. They're always sending you awesome stuff. In emails, they're like, "Hey, check out this book", "Oh, you've got to see this video I just watched, here it is."
That is actually networking, because they're serving you first. Now one day if they came to you and said, "Hey man, I know you have a friend who works at X company. I'm actually trying to get connected there. Do you think you can introduce me?" Of course you would say yes… Networking is about a personal relationship.
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