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“Ask The Experts” is written and provided by Scholarship Media. It does not reflect the views of The Collegian or its advertisers.
I’m looking to go into the business world when I graduate, and I think I have the grades and talent that it will take to get a great job. But there’s one part of being a businessperson that I’m just not good at and have never really gotten used to. It’s networking, and it seems to be very important to just about everyone but me.
I hate networking. It feels phony to try to build connections with people for selfish and cynical reasons, and I feel very uncomfortable cold calling people or approaching them at events. I don’t even know what events to go to, or what numbers to call! My parents both insist that I need to spend more time networking. They keep saying that when I’m in the business world, I’ll need to know people with all different skill sets. But I’m really resisting. Is networking really as important as people in business seem to think it is, or is it just one of those buzzwords that people overuse?
Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it’s very understandable that you don’t enjoy it. But we have some bad news: networking really is important.
It’s not quite true that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but in the business world there’s no denying that who you know does matter quite a bit. Studies show that many job openings are filled through networking and personal connections–and some studies put the figure as high as 85%! Certainly most of these people are perfectly qualified; but so, no doubt, were some people who were passed over in favor of the better-connected candidates.
Of course, not everything requires networking. Sure, it’s good to know people with different skills, say the business consultants at Wiss–but companies like Wiss are also around to help, making it easy to outsource tasks, manage payrolls, get expert advice, and more without having to have employees or personal contacts with those areas of expertise.
But for those who do network, the practice is a huge help. Studies correlate time spend networking with all sorts of measures of success, and top networkers can spend six hours or more a week connecting with professionals! So it’s definitely vital that you try to get at least a little better about networking–but how can you do that?
For starters, you can connect with classmates, particularly those who you know are also going into business. You can exchange numbers or email addresses and can also connect on social media sites–including LinkedIn and other specialty networking sites built for just this purpose. These sites will matter throughout your career, say facilitators at Solver Teams, a crowd-sourcing company that exists to connect individuals and professionals online to help turn ideas into inventions.
Your fears about reaching out to people you don’t know too well, and about appearing self-interested, are both understandable. But relax: lots of people hate networking, but it helps all of us, so don’t feel like the people you contact are doing you a favor: this goes both ways. And while some experts say as much as 99% of our networking is a waste of time, you can think of that statistic as a reason to relax. It’s very clear that networking as a whole is essential, but that individual meetings and relationships are not life-and-death situations. So form friendships and bonds, get advice, and relax–then, if and when you really need help in a specific situation, you may find that you know just the person to call!
There are a few guidelines to keep in mind if you want to enjoy positive networking experiences. Experts suggest approaching people you have at least some connection to (like a mutual acquaintance), not leading with a request for help (don’t wait until you’ve been laid off to build your network!), and being as genuine and friendly as possible.
Networking matters, but it’s a positive experience for those involved, and you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out. Start by connecting with those you’re most comfortable with on social media and in person, and build up your confidence for those cold calls and emails. You can do it!
“It occurs to me that our survival may depend on our talking to one another.” — Dan Simmons