networking more than just an exchangeWe hear it constantly. “You need to network”.  “Networking is what you need to do in order to secure employment”.  “You must network”.  And so on, and so on, and so on……  But what really is networking?  When asked to define “networking”, most people don’t have a single definition.   I don’t believe the value is in the networking itself but what networking ultimately leads to.   When asked the question, “What is networking?”, most people respond by defining it as some form of communication, an introduction, or a referral.   These are all true but a new career opportunity usually doesn’t come from these interactions alone.  There is more than that.

We should look at networking as not necessarily an event or introduction but more of a process.  It is a process of building a business relationship.  This process starts with doing your homework or researching organizations, people, and events that you may attend.  Handing out business cards and collecting business cards is not networking. It’s a tactical piece of networking.  What if I told you that roughly only 5% of the people I give my business card to actually contact me.   It is true.  Most folks neglect to ever follow up.  It’s not so much a matter of handing out a business card but who are you handing your business card to.  The more knowledgeable you are in your pursuit, the more efficient you will be.  Do your research! Know your audience!  Meeting the right people and developing a relationship with those individuals is the foundation you need to set in order to achieve your goal.  Follow up is also required in networking.  Professional communication is crucial.

To summarize, networking is not creating a LinkedIn Profile or handing out a business card.  These are both tactics that are used to network.  The value of networking lies in the relationship created through these tactics.  The development of a business relationship allows you to showcase your skills and convey your expertise to the appropriate audience.  The impression you make from these developed relationships is the key to your next career opportunity.  Employers value quality and they want employees who are going to contribute to their mission and organization.

So the next time you are asked what is networking, you may want to respond by saying that it is more than a business card exchange or an introduction.  Networking is a process to develop a professional relationship to achieve a defined goal.  In most cases, this goal is a fulfilling career.

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