Why Networking Works: You Already Have the Resources You Need—You Just Have to Put Them to Work
Scientist John Milgram developed a theory called the small world theory that suggests that everyone in the world is separated from everyone else by just six contacts. Dr. Milgram did a series of famous experiments that proved his theory. More recently, Dr. Nicholas Christakis and Dr. James Fowler wrote a book called Connections, in which they thoroughly investigate the small world theory and others on human social connections. They reaffirm the important influence a person’s network can have on job searching. If you use the social Internet site LinkedIn, you can see how the six degrees connection is possible by the raw numbers of third-level contacts or what Christakis and Fowler call “friends of friends.” For example, in 2010, Michael had 183 LinkedIn contacts. These 183 contacts give him the potential to reach all those contacts’ individual network contacts, and all of those contacts/friends give him the opportunity to reach all their network contacts (friends, friends of friends). That totals more than 2,530,000 third-level contacts, more than anyone could ever contact in a lifetime. The implication for networking is profound, even if you were to actively network with only a tiny fraction of the potential you’re capable of reaching. Each network contact you have is likely already networked, which, given the proper approach, care, and feeding, means your contacts should grow by some multiple.
The key phrase here is “proper approach, care, and feeding.” Your network is available for you to enrich your professional and personal life, but in return, you must enrich the lives of others.
Michael and Andrea get very upset when they hear someone say, “It’s time to start looking for a job. I’d better start networking.” Or they might say, “I only network at certain meetings or events.” Unfortunately, a great deal of the research shows that most of the success from networking comes to white workers who are 24 years of age or older and moving into their second or third job. This doesn’t mean this is the only group that can successfully network; it simply means that, up to this point, it’s the only sample group researchers have chosen to examine.
Networking is a skill—and like any personal skill, it needs to be practiced to be perfected. You can’t just sit down at a piano once a month and play Bach concertos like they are supposed to be played—nor can you network properly on demand whenever the need might arise. Networking is a five-step process that’s simple to define but involves hard work:
- Step 1: Meet people. Some people you know; some you don’t at first. You have to mix it up and get to know them. In Chapter 4, “Creating Connections: The People You Will Need in Your Network,” we introduce examples of “breaking the ice” phrases that you can use or adapt to your own style.
- Step 2: Listen and learn. All people like to talk about themselves and/or their company. When you actively listen, you learn about what’s important to other people, who they are, how you could help them, and how they could help you. In Chapter 5, “Characteristics of Great Networkers,” we discuss the difference between real empathetic listening (when you engage in active and responsive listening) and listening in which you’re just “hearing” what someone said.
- Step 3: Make connections. Help people connect with others you know can help them. When you help your contacts get what they want, you can’t help but be successful yourself.
- Step 4: Follow up. Keep your promises; keep your word. If you promise to do something, do it in a timely manner. In Chapter 8, “Keeping Your Network Alive and Growing,” we show you an easy-to-use method for following up with contacts.
- Step 5: Stay in touch. After an initial period of contact, if a result doesn’t materialize, most people just move on. Here’s where your own networking system will make you successful. These folks find ways to stay in touch and continue to build relationships. Why? Because their goal is to build a network of long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships, not just to get an immediate “result.”
This five-step system works because it’s based on building long-lasting relationships—not just immediate relationships, but lifelong ones.
Networking is lifelong and beneficial to everyone who participates. It’s a win–win proposition. On the other hand, power brokering, by its nature, is a zero-sum political contest in which someone must win and someone must lose. In the long run, an individual who practices power brokering creates a long list of enemies who will do anything they can to bring down that person. Unlike net workers, power brokers have few friends. Real net workers gain the positive benefits listed earlier because they gain the help and assistance of an ever-growing number of people.