One of the most common pieces of advice for professionals is to network whenever, wherever, with whomever you can.
But in a recent post on Career Contessa, a website for career-driven women, tech consulting professional Lulu Xiao explains why that may actually be a terrible suggestion.
She writes: “Every time I hear someone proclaim the need to network, I can’t help but cringe. It brings to mind awkward interactions at happy hours, stunted discussions about job responsibilities, desperate attempts to continue (or end) conversations, and a general feeling of discomfort.”
While she recognises the obvious advantages of knowing many people in lots of different places, Xiao says the term “networking” has always seemed disingenuous to her.
She tells Business Insider that when we think of that word, there is a general understanding that the goal is to increase the number of professional contacts we have in order to help further our careers.
She says when the focus of networking is primarily quantitative in nature, “then we neglect to value the importance of having high-quality relationships.”
The most salient example, she says, is that one of the most prominent indicators on any LinkedIn profile is the number of connections a person has. “However, we cannot tell what that number really means,” she explains. “Does a person have 500 contacts, but only know 10 of them well? Or does the person actually have a solid network of 500 contacts that he or she can reach out to anytime? Though the number of contacts is the same in both cases, I think the latter case is more impressive and should be more highly regarded.”
Additionally, she says, if we network in order to meet people who will help further our career, we do not set ourselves up to make authentic relationships — “something that I believe is key in making lasting and meaningful relationships.”
“When I used to ‘network,’ I often felt compelled to talk to certain people because I thought they would be more helpful in my career advancement,” Xiao says. “My conversations were always stunted, however, because I was trying to connect with a self-benefiting motive in mind. Instead, I found that I developed better and more meaningful relationships when I connected with people as if I was making a new friend.”
This is why she changed her perspective and decided “network, network, network” is bad advice, and shifted her energy to “relationship building.”
“The difference is far more than semantic,” she writes in her post. “It involves an entirely different way of approaching and getting to know others. Relationships describe more meaningful and natural connections between people. When you develop relationships, you connect with people, because they are inherently interesting.”
So now when she goes to a “networking event,” she doesn’t chat with people based on whether they may be able to help her further her career. She talks to those with whom she connects on a personal level over things like their mutual love for Beyoncé or travel.
“There are definitely advantages to having a big network,” Xiao says. “And ideally, a person would have a large but strong network.” But if you can only have one, a stronger network is far more important than a big one.
“I would rather have great relationships with 10 people than be marginally associated with 100,” she says. “I’ve found that I am connected to more and more people — and my network grows even faster — when I focus on building strong relationships and friendships.”
Read the Career Contessa post here.
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