Who you know matters. Our relationships with others form the core of our human lives. Even a hermit has to have interacted with someone at some point — I mean, someone did actually take care of that creepy old man as a baby, just maybe not all that well. Through the course of your life, you will encounter thousands of people. Some may share your interests and passions, but many won’t give a hoot about who you are or what your potential is. Your life goals are your life goals, and most people will never help you pursue them. In order to get help, you need to be able to leverage these relationships and convince people to work with you.
This is called “networking,” and though it’s often thought of as something special by the uninitiated, it’s actually an intrinsic skill that’s rooted purely in how one interacts with others. Giving this skill a special name simply makes it easy to reference, but people often inordinately attribute special meanings to it as well, as if only by attending seminars will you know how to do it. In reality, everyone networks every single day. It’s simply how you get what you want.
Networking can easily be defined as any opportunity you have to meet people pursuing similar interests to your own. This could occur in a wide variety of settings, such as an official event like a career fair, at work through client meetings, cold calls or lunches with your manager or in less social settings like brunch with your friends. Though everyone possesses the ability to network, how successful you are at it depends on your awareness of others, what you are pursuing and how comfortable you are stepping outside your comfort zone.
It’s my opinion that seminars and classes purporting to make you better at networking really just help you improve at these things. They typically cover a combination of the following topics: how to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation, how to properly conduct yourself in social settings, the particulars of why specific industries require specific approaches and how to not piss people off.
These skills are not exclusive to networking. They are life skills that, due to differences in experience, some people are just better at than others. Consider this: Someone brought up in an extremely extroverted family is more likely to be comfortable meeting random people than someone with a family composed entirely of introverts. Someone wary of stepping outside his or her comfort zone may be extremely knowledgeable on the topics within their sphere of interest but simply avoids going out and expanding upon them.
I am not vilifying networking seminars or classes; I’m just saying that the skills that fall under the umbrella term “networking” have further reaching implications than just your career. Improving at all of the above-mentioned skills will help you advance your career, but it will also inevitably make you better at handling a myriad of other situations as well. The introvert becomes more social, the extrovert gains self-control and the worrywart is a little less anxious.
Successful networking takes more than just being affable and nice. You must be the consummate professional. When meeting new people, first impressions are essential. It’s all well and good to get yourself in front of the people who matter, but if you come off as a fool, needy or disrespectful, good luck getting anything out of that interaction. In fact, good luck ever showing your face in that arena again. Never second-guess people’s memories.