- Get experience
- Build a professional network of contacts
Whether done face-to-face or online, networking sounds a bit mysterious to the newcomer who is about to launch his or her professional career. Questions arise like "Who do I network with?" and "What am I supposed to do?" are not uncommon. Let's remove the mystery- I like the description of networking given by Terrance Williams in a post on the blog New Grad Life: Networking is building good relationships." Networking is not about how many business cards you can collect or how many "big name" connections you have on LinkedIn. It is an ongoing process of relationship building with people who share common interests and goals.
Students' Views of Networking
I have included networking as a component in my undergraduate sports marketing course for the past four years. The emergence of LinkedIn as a social networking site for business professionals coupled with the importance networking in the sports industry prompted me to incorporate networking into my class. I quickly realized that students' familiarity with social media via their Facebook usage did not prepare them to be successful at networking on LinkedIn. In fact, I was unsure how prepared they were to network in general.
I address this uncertainty by collecting data on students views of networking. Each semester, I gather data on networking about two weeks into the class. I distribute a survey with three items:
- Complete the following sentence: Networking is _____.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very uncomfortable and 10 being very comfortable, I would rate my comfort level with networking with people face-to-face as a _____ because _____.
- What I need to become better at networking is _____.
Transaction or Relationship?
Extending the marketing literature to networking yields two views:
- Transactional - Networking is exchange of information or influence for short-term benefit
- Relational - Networking activities are not outcome dependent; they are done to build mutually beneficial relationships
Networking as Transaction. Here are two definitions representative of a transactional view of networking:
- "Seizing every opportunity to professionally connect with an individual providing you with valuable professional contacts. It's a small world."
- "Building a contact base with several people that could lead to more future contacts."
Networking as Relationship. While most definitions emphasized networking as a transaction, some students come into networking with an understanding of its relational benefits:
- Making advantageous relationships.”
- When you go around engaging with other business people to form a relationship. This relationship can be the start of a friendship as well as a great career opportunity."
Quantity versus Quality
The distinction between networking as transaction or relationship can be described as a quantity versus quality issue- should we focus on building a large network or develop a smaller one with deeper interactions? There are merits to both sides of the question, and some might even answer "both." Don't let this question stifle your networking efforts, though. You can figure out the answer that serves you better as your networking progresses, but either way get off the couch or from behind the screen and network!