I’ve been planning a networking function for present and past employees at my current place of work. Planning in this context, is really just trying to find a venue. That’s challenging because there is a wide geographic dispersion where everyone lives. The last event I planned was close to my house and I received a few comments from people, that presumably would have come, indicating it was too far to drive. So this time, I am looking for a venue in a different part of town.
While discussing with a colleague, he asked me “Why are you doing this?” And then as if by automatic queue, he asked if I was trying to get a job. That conversation stuck with me this week because my answer was ‘no’, but I felt like the question deserved more than a single word response. So the question is ‘why do you network with people?’ The online Merriam-Webster definition says networking is “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions ; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business”. Hmmmm. Ok, so cultivating relationships for employment is part of the formal definition. I do acknowledge this aspect of networking but consider it to be so much more. I think the key thought and meaning in the definition centers around ‘cultivating relationships.’
The most well known online tool for networking has become LinkedIn. When this originally launched, it was a place for people to register contacts with each other and to post their resume online. It quickly brought to life your friends, friends-of- friends and so on for deeper links in your network. But over time, the site has become so much more. Now you can join groups of related people (organization, school, interests, etc.), participate in discussions about life and business, post and apply for jobs, share documents, and share information. Look at the growth in traffic over the past few years. Is this site and others like it used only for the purpose of finding a job? I suppose for some the answer is yes. If this is true, then they have missed the point of tool.
What about face-to-face events for networking? If people go to these events for the sole purpose to ask or look for a job then I bet they come away disappointed most of the time. That’s as likely to succeed as a sales cold-call. I imagine it also risks alienating some relationships. Jobs can and often do come out of your network of contacts, but not often by going to a public meeting and handing out business cards and asking.
So what’s my answer to the original question? Why do I do it? Consider these answers:
Find out what is happening in the lives of those I call friends or who are part of my network. This helps me understand who that person really is. What molds and makes them. It gets past the shallow conversations I have within the work place. For example, at past events I’ve found out struggles with schooling, dreams for entrepreneurship, annual vacation spots, working with the elderly, etc. That’s cultivating relationships.
Let others teach me. Learn from their wisdom. Undoubtedly, they have experiences and key learnings to share. I may be able to learn a specific technique to solve problems or simply some diversity of thought about how to approach problems. In a recent networking meeting I learned a little about video cataloging and retrieval for a large media company. But this could also be about other issues like relationships. Perhaps one of my friends shares a common life event such as raising teenagers or going back to school. That’s an opportunity to learn. That’s cultivating relationships.
This is my opportunity to share with others. Sharing could mean sharing life stories or subject matter expertise. Just as I can learn from my friend’s experiences and knowledge, they may be able to learn from me as well. In the past, I’ve shared about thoughts on public versus private school, blogging, home repair and the like.
In my mind, networking is the real Facebook of life. Maybe it really is a terminology thing, but I see other events like this with different names: girls night out, prayer breakfasts, party, etc. At the end of the day, no matter what you call it, its all about relationships. As Webster states it, ‘cultivation of productive relationships’. That’s more than looking for a job. At the core of it, that’s about purpose and being.
So I’ll ‘keep’ networking. Keep in this context is meant and to be read as both a continuation of activity and a possessive verb. I’ll keep networking to strengthen and build relationships. I’ll keep networking because its a valuable element of meaningful life.