Career Connection

Demystifying networking

Like it or not, networking is key to professional success. Unfortunately, keeping our heads down and doing great work just isn’t enough to further our careers. Here are tips from a wise introvert on how to build your network.

Over the years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with business networking. The old networking guru mantra is “It’s who you know, not what you know.” That was a cool catchphrase, but there was part of me that couldn’t accept that relationships could matter more to career success than focus and hard work. For many years, the skeptic and cynic in me resisted the premise that networking was the holy grail, and I avoided it at all costs.

I’ll never forget the awkward moments early in my career when the companies that I worked for held formal networking events that I was required to attend. Folks wearing nametags would stand around awkwardly clutching the free food and drink, while facilitators would coax the group to connect through a range of icebreakers that never quite felt natural. While the companies meant well, I never truly got the hang of using those forums to forge the beginnings of real and meaningful connections with colleagues, bosses or clients.

I once worked for a company that had a project I desperately wanted to work on. I was aware that management and the client were focused for several weeks on identifying who was to be on the team. I kept my head down and cranked out what I thought was legendarily exceptional work on the current project I was assigned to. I was sure management would notice me. One of my colleagues, whom I deemed to be an average performer and overall slacker because of the time she spent chatting up managers and clients, got the project over me. When I asked why that had happened, my manager told me that my colleague’s in-company network had advocated for her to be on the project. That’s when it hit me. I knew I needed to take networking more seriously because who you know really does matter as much or if not more than what you know.

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