I admit - I love Vegas. While I’m at this year’s SHRM Annual Conference, I do plan on checking out the latest restaurants and maybe even taking in a show. But the most fun I have during the SHRM conference is spending time networking. It’s really fun to meet people I’ve only traded tweets with or connect with longtime friends from my days as a volunteer leader.
Yes, going to sessions is important – especially that 7:00 a.m. one about the new overtime regulations. (I will be looking for some serious caffeine that morning!) And, I will be tracking my SHRM-SCP recertification credits. Equally important for me is spending time in the expo hall learning about new products and services that I will either use myself or recommend to my clients and colleagues. But all of those things cannot be at the expense of networking.
The value of networking was one of the first things I learned about in my human resources career. I was very fortunate to work for a company and a manager who placed value on building a network. I’ve never forgotten it. But as much as we talk about the value of networking, there are still plenty of people who miss the point. In fact, it might be easier to explain what networking is by saying what it isn’t:
- Something to cross off your ‘to-do’ list (as in “I networked today.”)
- Only connecting with people you feel can do something for you
- Calling just to ask for favors
- Giving your resume to everyone you meet
- Only talking with your posse and not meeting anyone new
- Handing out your business card to everyone you meet
Networking is about building relationships. Let me say that again. Networking is about building relationships. And, that’s what the book talks about … how to build relationships. It makes me think of listening, smiling, sharing, offering assistance, being helpful and connecting. Let me add that building relationships is a two-way street. Good networking has a balance to it. It’s not about one person always making the call. Or one person always asking a question. It’s about equal giving and sharing.
And maintaining that balance is also the challenge with networking. A HUGE mistake many people make is they don’t start building a professional network until they need one (translation: lose their job) – and then it’s too late. You need to network every day, all day and all the time. You never know who you might meet and when you will be presented with an opportunity – just make sure that you’re ready.
Some people refer to networking as paying it forward. I believe they’re two different things. Paying it forward is the expression used for describing when the beneficiary of a good deed repays it to someone other than the original benefactor. According to Wikipedia, the phrase may have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book, In the Garden of Delight. Paying it forward is a gift with no expectation of return. In fact, the expectation is that you will gift someone else.
Speaking of paying it forward, I’ll confess . . . I know people who only call me when they are looking for a job. Maybe they think I haven’t put the pieces together and don’t realize that. But as soon as I get a note saying, “Hey! I’ve been thinking of you. Let’s find time to have some sushi.” I know they’re looking for a job. This is not networking. If I have the opportunity to help them, it’s really a gift or a favor – with the hope that they will pay it forward.
While networking isn’t about keeping score, if done correctly, it can have a “return the favor” element to it. We often feel obligated to do something nice for someone when they’ve done something nice for us. Granted, it might not be immediately and there’s no scorecard to make sure the exchanges are always in balance. But I’m challenged to think of one situation where someone is very willing to be called upon repeatedly for business, information, and jobs without some level of future expectation.
Networking is something we need to be successful at in our careers. So we need to get something out of it. But to get something, we need to give something. Successful networking involves looking at the big picture, not the short-term. As you’re out there building your networking circle, the last thing to remember is that networking is forever.
What have you given to your network lately?