The concept of networking is kind of like the concept of riding the biggest, scariest roller coaster at an amusement park. Engaging a stranger in initial conversation is kind of like the part of the roller coaster where you are being carried up and all you hear is the “clunk clink clunk clink clunk clink” of the belt carrying the roller coaster to the climax. It is similar because you are nervous for what will happen next. You have no clue how that person will react from you approaching them just like you have no clue how you will feel once hitting that huge drop on the roller coaster. For the most part, you will end up satisfied and happy that you reached out to that stranger because you not only proved something to yourself that you could do it, but you learned something new or made a new connection from doing so. Occasionally you will end up with a headache at the end (similar to a rusty old wooden roller coaster) because the stranger you reached out to is annoying and won’t stop talking about something you are not interested in. But never will you end up with a negative outcome from networking.
Networking leads to careers, business partnerships, and friendships. These seem like outcomes people would seek in their lives, but why do most young professionals and college students employ networking only during times of desperation? To prove my point, think about the first two weeks of college. For the most part, every other freshman you met was super nice and friendly to you. Why? Because they (and you) were desperate for friends in a new and unusual environment. In a professional setting, attending alumni networking events and professional development seminars did not seem very attractive when you were happy in your job, but once the job started to become monotonous and you didn’t see yourself in a future at that company, those networking and development events became more attractive to attend. When you are less desperate to change, you are less likely to network.
This is not to say that all young professionals and college students only network in times of desperation, but a large quantity of us do.
The trick is to look at networking like this: networking is not a transaction. There is no clear outcome of what will occur from taking the time to speak with somebody. Just because a person’s expertise or insight does not interest you now, does not mean that their knowledge is worthless to you. Young professionals and college students know that some of the outcomes from networking include landing careers, business partnerships, and friendships, but those don’t typically stem from the first meeting one has with a stranger. More likely than not, it is a person recommending you to meet someone else that they know. Therefore, as opposed to trying to attempt the home run of landing a job from a stranger you met at a cocktail party, a better tactic could be to just build a positive working relationship where they know about you and what you are looking for and potentially recommending somebody for you to connect with. Recommendations are one of the leading ways people land careers. You can’t receive any recommendations if you don’t go out and network.
In the end, networking is something that should be done all of the time by everyone (especially young professionals and college students). Keeping a keen track of those you are connected with is important because although you may not value a person’s expertise now, you may value it later. Plus, if you are only networking when you are desperate, it is very likely evident to the other person you are speaking with that you are desperate. Those that want to work with desperate people want to work with desperate people because they are likely desperate themselves to work with anyone. It is ironic how desperate people attract other desperate people because desperate people are the last types of people a desperate person is trying to attract.