Why You Shouldn’t Network

Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

If you’re in the business of business, you’ve probably been knocked on the head at least a thousand times about how networking is vital for your career. Well, I’ve got bad news: you’ve been lied to. Networking doesn’t work.

Well, networking in a traditional sense at least. The times of informational interviews and coffee chats are well on their way out, now being replaced by a much more organic form of communication. But before I talk about your modern alternatives, let me better elaborate on why I think the old world is kaputt.

The first problem with networking is that it’s superficial. The conversations themselves really aren’t worth your time, most of the time. Especially if you’re a college student, you probably don’t have anything to offer someone other than a few stupid questions and a minor ego boost. When I wrote about communication on Apalla, I wrote that people like to feel respected. Respect means respecting their time — if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it!

The second problem with networking is that it’s repetitive. Not only is the actual process of setting up a coffee date or a phone call monotonous, but if you do it enough times you’ll begin to realize that people sort of say the same things over and over again. Take the Tim Ferriss podcast — while the advice is fantastic, you only have to watch 6 or 7 of them to realize that everyone has pretty much the same keys to success. Hell, Tim himself wrote two books on this idea.  Now, the people on this podcast are on the top of their game — how quality do you think the advice you’ll get from random people in your network is?

And finally, the third problem with networking is that it’s time consuming. You’re spending lord knows how many hours scheduling the damn things in the first place, which are on average 30-minute fixed chunks of your time. This is time that can be much better spent creating, whether it be code, writing, art, design — whatever type of creator you are. You should be spending this time getting money and leads in the door, not by asking some entrepreneur how they made it in their industry (spoiler alert: it’s about the same as everyone else).

Alright, so enough of the negatives. What should you be doing instead?

Well, as it turns out, I do have good news for you: the new world form of networking is even easier than the old world form.  It involves taking a combined route when getting to know other people — meeting and creating, intertwined. In this case, you don’t have to worry about whether things are time consuming because it is tied to the content you’re producing regardless. Similarly, it is no longer superficial nor repetitive since the connections are made naturally over time. 

So, here’s some examples of new world networking techniques:

Create content. Duh! Setting up things like blogs, social media accounts, or Youtube channels with the intention of making insightful content is what new world networking is all about. As you share your content, meet other people who are interested in what you are working on. Build these relationships, and you’ll be well on your way to building meaningful connections without the need for an informational interview. 

Be on other people’s content. I’m thinking podcast guest appearances, guest blogging, et cetera. You might not have requests for yourself coming in everyday when you first start out, but you can certainly ask. Notice the value differential between “I want to talk to you to learn about your career path and how to get this prestigious job” versus “I want to write some high quality content on your blog to drive in viewers”. Same concept, very different value prop!

However, just because things are “new world” doesn’t mean that it strictly has to do with new age stuff like social media and technology. There’s plenty of traditional tasks that fit this bucket:

Join groups you’re passionate about. Say you’re a Youtuber focusing on the latest news in the RTS games genre. Well, you’ll have to join RTS-related news groups to understand what content to make anyway. Why not be involved in this community, and meet people in it? You could end up meeting the people who make these RTS games, and have them give you exclusive content. Just make sure you’re giving something back to the community in return. 

Work within companies. This is absolutely the easiest way to network. Work for people in a company, and do a good job. If you do a good job, they like you. Capitalize on that liking, and build a relationship out of it. Easy as cake! 

Take others networking requests. Just because you’re no longer in the game of old world networking, doesn’t mean you should shun everyone who still is. Listen, here’s the best advice I will give you on networking out of all of this: you should always respond to people who are asking to network with you in good faith. Whether it be a LinkedIn message or a 15 minute phone call, (provided you aren’t outrageously busy) you should always accept. You never know where these things can lead, and it requires very little work on your part in comparison to the person who’s asking. And hell, maybe you can use that chance to spread the gospel of new world networking!

I hope this guide helped. As a person who was always incredibly annoyed with old world networking, I felt incredibly relieved to know that this format works just as well. I hope that relief spreads to you. 

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What you Should be Doing Instead of Networking

 

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

 

Networking. There is perhaps no word more overused in the business world, and no word that more serves as the bane to my existence.

Now, there’s clearly an importance to meeting people. Connecting with others can lead to new doors and avenues that were previously out of reach. What I dislike is the commoditizing of connections; of turning the simple act of being with like-minded people into a business meta-game. There is a strict difference between networking in the games people play, and networking in the way it really ought to be. This is the difference between networking and making real connections.

I fell down the networking trap not too long ago. Coming in as an undergraduate to a business school, you are constantly blasted with the call to networking; pelted with the aphorisms such as “It’s not what you know, but who you know” (ironic coming from a university). Caught in the crossfire, I made massive contact lists; I emailed someone the best alumni from the college, got on the phone with them, asked questions, answered questions, and then… nothing. There was no spark. Despite the fact that I was doing exactly what the business world was telling me to do, I got nothing out of it. I decided to stop the charades of sending out 100 emails a week and focus on what the hell this was all about in the first place.

“Networking” isn’t a business game. It’s just a derogatory world for socialization. When I got on the phone, I asked them questions about their path, what they did at their work, and some of their bigger goals. And then, they answered. The problem with this is that this is neither something that inherently interested me, nor something that inherently interested them. It was all cardboard, recycled hundreds of times by both of us. If you really want to make a connection with someone, connect with them. It’s much easier than the networking game sounds; find a topic that interests you, and see if there’s a match.

I’ll take the classic example of programming. If you’re chatting with a senior engineer, don’t ask him how he got there or generic questions about the company. Instead, ask him about what frameworks or languages he likes to use, and see how it connects with what you like to use. If he’s a big React fan, but you prefer Vue, maybe you could go down the path of asking him why he uses React instead? (By the way, I know next to nothing about these, so my deep apologies to WebDevs if this part is cringy). Either way, you get the point. Find some starting point that interests you, and see if the other person bites. If not, pick another topic.

What if the person never bites back? What if they give fairly boring, stale answers? Well then, that’s fine as well. It just turns out that you two don’t connect very well. This happens. Simply move on to the next person, and eventually you’ll find a match.

Huh. Now that I’ve described this, it all seems so familiar. Could this possibly be… the way normal humans communicate? As it turns out, it is; you can in fact use the way you communicate with other people for networking, and vice versa. This seems pretty obvious now that I’ve written it all out, but you’d be surprised; in a world filled to the brim with networking books, networking workshops, and networking mixers, this simple idea can get lost in the mire.

Another note on this; while casting a wide net can still work, it’s not something I’d personally recommend. Especially as an undergraduate student, there’s not much you can really look for in a business contact; maybe for getting an internship or a full-time job at their firm later on, but this is pretty impersonal and also in a way scummy. I personally just like having these connections occur naturally; I go to conferences and get involved with organizations that have similar interests to mine and meet people as I go. This way, there’s much more relevant, short-term things to discuss, and the contact can still carry on into long-term use for both parties involved.

 

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