We recently welcomed the latest class of associates in our Associates Program. Along with robust learning and development initiatives offered to all employees, this particular program is one of the ways in which SEI believes and invests in future leaders. The program gives recent graduates – both undergrad and master’s degree grads – the opportunity to grow and succeed here. In some cases, they have the chance to rotate positions across the company, participate in an innovation pitch competition, and receive career management guidance and coaching.
And they get to network. Oh, do they get to network.
Now when I bring up the subject of networking, many heads nod in agreement, as if to say, “Yes of course, networking is so important.” Then I drop the bomb: “I absolutely hate to network!”
The “grin and grip” isn’t for me
Don’t get me wrong; I understand the importance of building and maintaining relationships. I realize that in today’s world, more gets done through influence and relationships than authority and compliance. For years, it weighed heavily on my mind. Was I short-changing my career or my long-term prospects by not engaging in networking?
But as my wife likes to say, I am thick headed. I do not give in easy. I still don’t like the idea of networking or attending events where the sole purpose is to network with strangers. It seems fake and forced to me. During these events, I do not find it easy to get to know people at the level necessary for me to build trust and establish an ongoing relationship. I am not judging those that like this kind of traditional networking. Honestly, I‘m a little jealous.
I realize I need to practice what I preach, and as I say to my kids, the only way you really know if you don’t like something is to actually try it. Great advice, but hard to live by. While I would prefer to limit my “trying new things” to something more appealing, like food or maybe travel… I have tried to network in the traditional sense of organized event forums and it only reinforced that it’s just not for me.
Looking beyond the label
“Networking” has the following definitions:
- (n) An association of individuals having a common interest, formed to provide mutual assistance, helpful information, etc.
- (v) To cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment
As it turns out, the word networking had a negative connotation to me because I was limiting its definition, and letting my own mental model obstruct the realm of networking possibilities more within my comfort zone. Once I was able to let go of the label and reflect on the definitions, I realized I do a lot of “networking” naturally throughout my daily personal and professional life. I just don’t do it through structured networking events like alumni groups and cocktail parties.
Network with intent
Think about the strongest relationships you have today. Now think about how long it took you to develop those relationships. Why did you invest that amount of time? You had a purpose, and that intent committed you to make an investment in each relationship. Maybe it was a common interest or a shared vision, but as you were putting time into building the relationship, you likely engaged in networking with intent along the way. I don’t believe most of us can show up to an event, spend an hour or two with a room full of strangers, and walk away with strong connections. Relationships just don’t work that way – at least for me. But I do believe if you have a purpose or specific intent, then you will make an investment of your time in networking that can pay great dividends in the end.
I wrote this blog post because I cannot tell you the number of people who approach me to say they do not like to network, either. I shared with them some of the ways I network now, that maybe I wouldn’t have considered “networking” before:
- Investing time in ongoing professional relationships
- Facilitating business strategy sessions
- Coaching my kids’ teams
- Volunteering for service projects in the community
- Speaking at conferences
- Mentoring students at my undergraduate and graduate institutions
- Participating in non-profit boards
My advice to the folks who approached me was to reflect more on the definition of networking, and less on the conventional act of it. Let go of the traditional view of networking and focus with intent on building meaningful relationships in ways that are comfortable to you.
At the end of the day, everyone needs to network. It’s the way of the world. But everyone should decide how to do it in a way that feels right to them.