Wherever you turn for career advice, you’re bound to hear about the importance of networking. Over and over, you hear the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Sometimes the hype around networking gets so intense you might think that if you’re not a pro at it, you’ll never succeed at anything.
There’s no question that a strong network can help you go far in life, but the common consensus seems to be that networking is incredibly boring. It’s true, if you network the way people typically think networking is supposed to be done, you’ll find yourself stuck at cocktail parties on weekday evenings after work, having superficial conversations with people who are just looking for an opportunity to meet that more important person across the room. How could that possibly be fun, when all you really want to do is go home and cuddle with your family?
Networking doesn’t have to be about wasting time at soulless events. There’s a better way to do it. Remember that people like to talk to people they can relate to, people they can bond with around a similar interest.
So get involved with other people who share your interests. For example, if you are into marketing, there is a great group of professionals who meet on a regular basis in Levent in Istanbul. They share ideas, catch up with each other, listen to guest speakers and generally just have a good time together. Some of the members come from big companies, some small. Some are senior in their career, others are just starting out. What they all have in common, though, is a passion for marketing. Their events are not technically networking events, but when you put a group of exciting, like-minded people together in a room, networks form naturally.
As you find the right groups and start meeting the members, don’t just stand on the sidelines. Jump in and become an active participant. Start sharing your work with people, putting it out there for them to see, and ask them for ideas and advice. Rest assured they will respond well, because when you put your work out there and ask for feedback, you are actually enriching their lives, too.
If there isn’t such an organization where you live, you can start one yourself. What better way to become well-connected and to develop your leadership skills than to provide a platform where your peers can gather and improve their own lives?
Building your own face-to-face community from scratch can take a lot of time, though. So another alternative is to go online, because the network you are looking for probably already exists on the internet, in places like LinkedIn, Friendfeed and Twitter. Find people on the web who share you interests, and then if you are in the same area, start getting together face-to-face for coffee, and watch your community grow from there.
You will be amazed at the number of influential people taking part in these online networking platforms. Here in Turkey, the influentials nurture their networks in other ways, and often they don’t understand the online ones very well. But if you need to reach a powerful member of your profession, you will probably find someone online who knows them.
Remember that online networking is more than just posting cute cat videos on Facebook. Provide real professional value to the people on the network, and they will return the favor. Also, just like you don’t walk up to a new person at a cocktail party and ask, “What can you do for me”, you don’t sign up for a group on LinkedIn and immediately ask, “Who here can get me a cool job?” Provide value for others first, before you ask for it in return.
So the next time you hear some career advisor talk about the importance of networking, don’t make plans to waste your valuable time with people you don’t really care about. Think about doing the things you love most, with other people who love them too, bonding with each other over a shared passion. That’s real networking, and the relationships you build with it will bring far more benefit to your professional life than going to one more boring party in a hotel ballroom filled with strangers.