04/01/2015 12:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Networking 101


Networking is probably one of the most overused words and activities in today's society but despite being over used it is the most effective way to establish and build meaningful relationships that can be beneficial both personally and professionally. Networking also can lead to supportive relationships that are able to serve as an ongoing and long term method for gathering contacts, developing potential alliances and for marketing. Let's start by examining the fundamentals:
  1. What is networking?
  2. Why do we network (or at least attempt to network)?
  3. Where should we network?

Networking is commonly defined as, "interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career," but really what is networking? At its basic level networking is the practice of building relationships. Unfortunately, far too many people think that networking is about building relationships with individuals that can help them in their career and personal pursuits. Most people fail to realize that networking is about developing mutually beneficial relationships and people fail to network on a continuous basis.

Networking is an ongoing skill and activity that involves converting a professional and/or casual contact into a relationship and it should be practiced regularly. There are two major errors that people can make while networking; treating networking as a one sided activity by seeking to build relationships with whom they think can help them with their personal and/or professional goals without having to bring anything to the table and networking when they have a "need". For example, networking when you are looking for a new job or connecting with a person within a specific organization while marketing an idea, product or belief.

Networking involves continuously developing a broad community of professional and supportive relationships and potential alliances in which there is an opportunity for a "win-win" for all parties involved. Carla Harris, Vice Chairman, Global Wealth Management, Managing Director & Senior Client Advisor for Morgan Stanley believes that we have to invest in our network by giving at least 4 times to a person in our network before we ask them for a favor or to act on our behalf.

We network because relationships are a priceless commodity. When given a choice people will always do business with people they know or with a person that has come highly recommended by a valued and trusted member of their network. Additionally, networking allows one the opportunity to find new partners to serve as mentors, partners, clients and/or suppliers. Through our network we also have the opportunity to be exposed to market opportunities, innovation and new ideas. Finally, networking enables us to make new friends.

The most proficient networkers realize that you can effectively network ANYWHERE however, most people limit networking to business gatherings, networking events, alumni associations, professional memberships and various online platforms. In the Forbes article, 7 Reasons Networking Can Be a Professional Development Boot Camp, Glen Llopis states that, "Most people don't like networking because they don't feel safe in environments where you are forced to meet new people - especially those who may serve in roles of greater influence and power." It's important to remember that networking should not be a forced activity but an ongoing practice of building a broad community of professional and personal relationships.

We network to establish and build meaningful relationships and in today's extremely diverse and socially connected society there are many tools we can leverage to effectively network, such as business and professional gatherings, designated networking events, professional organizations, personal connections and/or affiliations and social media platforms. Through networking we are able to establish mutually beneficial relationships that can help all parties involved reach their professional and personal goals.