Today we are consumed mainly by the sheer speed of the fast-moving business world and its associated professional commitments. At some point in time, we like to pause and reflect upon some of the crucial pit-stops during the 'high-octane' life. The fact is that we all halt to recollect the learnings from the past. It is an occasional scenario for some, while it is an important exercise to practice time and again for others.
My Recent Episode with the Past
A few days back, while searching for an essential document in the closet, I came across my first offer letter. The letter helped me realize that my professional journey has completed a decade in this competitive corporate world. I never realized the time that went by until I saw the letter. It made me think – 'We are so consumed by how much we get 'Now' that we have lost track of all the good things we have achieved and the bad things we did' (probably a good time for introspection).
The journey so far has been fascinating for me as I saw many twists and turns. I learned a lot through personal experiences and, more importantly, from others' experiences within the network. Today I am mesmerized by the 'Power of Networking' as it helped me on numerous occasions. Probably it's time for me to give back and contribute in whatever minuscule way I may.
Since my childhood, I have been quoted by many as an extrovert, naughty, friendly, and a 'talkative' person. Overall, I feel all these characteristics worked for me a lot in my career - mainly while practicing the art of networking or enhancing my skillset (since I wrote like many others, 'Interpersonal Skills' & 'Networking' as top skills in my resume). But let me clarify that networking is not just a 'skill'; it is an 'Art' that can embrace all. A more elaborate explanation will follow shortly.
A question arises: Do a person who is not an extrovert, talkative, and friendly in outside appearance get limited in some way w.r.t networking? In my opinion, the answer is 'No,' and I will cover why I feel so in the remaining part of the article.
Let’s Start with the Golden Words
We all have gurus and mentors who help us at the tight corners of our lives by sharing words of wisdom (in the form of advice, roadmap, and sometimes even while scolding). These words often get etched or engraved into our minds, and we follow them, and they become a preamble. During the early part of my professional journey, one such thing happened to me. One of my mentors shared a simple yet powerful statement- "Your Network Defines Your Net-Worth." It may have taken me some time to understand the message's value and power in the initial years, but now I can't dare to miss interpreting it correctly for everyone in my network. Today I am a firm believer of the statement. I am sure this preaching must have helped hundreds and thousands of people worldwide grow in their respective careers and probably, grow better as individuals and human beings.
What is the meaning of ‘Networking’?
In books, 'Networking' is primarily referred to as the process of collaboration to trade-in information. It is also mapped as an avenue for exchanging thoughts and ideas among like-minded people or common-interest groups, fostering long-lasting relationships for mutual benefit. Networking has been defined very well by many across the world for professional growth purposes in a similar manner. I agree with the thoughts when it comes to equating it with avenues for new opportunities, improving creative intellect, building personal brand and status, boosting self-morale, etc., leading to professional growth.
On a personal front, I define networking a bit differently.
Understanding the ‘Net-worth of Networking’?
To understand the ‘Net-worth,’ we need to understand the power factor. First, networking is an avenue of collaboration and learning, not a source of material & personal gains. One will experience networking power eventually by virtue of relationships developed, learnings acquired, and support provided. Do note benefits and gains flow in multi directions and what one takes is something he/she should give back at some time.
One should never try to bluff a network by showing untrue engagements (just to be a part of a network). Vested interests show up quickly, and if the motive is fake, the association will be short-lived, leading to losses more than benefits (simple human’s potential of analyzing characteristics come into force).
Remember: Networking happens between humans, and mind and heart both counts. To establish a long-lasting relationship, contribute towards both. The percentage of your contribution towards ‘give’ and ‘take’ will eventually define the net-worth of networking.
Additional Thoughts: Where to Start Networking?
Honestly, there is no particular time defined when one can start practicing the art of networking. Networking is an asset worth investing in every quarter of life, starting from school days to post-retirement tenure.
Network with your friends, their parents, and teachers. The way one manages to get the study notes just before the exam schedule arrives is an excellent example of the power of networking at an early age.
Similarly, having a good rapport with teachers and friends' parents may help get the right internship projects and get help while setting out for the first job.
For working professionals:
HR Professional – Looked upon as the most influential professional within the organization (yet many times undervalued due to sentiments and humor episodes worldwide). In hindsight, a strong network among the working professionals/BU/leadership will go a long way. A highly networked HR professional will find it relatively easy. Being in the thick of things due to strong networking attributes, an HR professional can identify signs of alarm, find quick solutions to problems troubling the senior management, gain access to cross industry norms and procedures, and likely to positively influence the senior leadership for any strategic changes required in the organization.
Marketing & Sales Professional – A highly networked person will find it easy to initiate a conversation regarding products and services and create a pipeline. With less dependence on cold calls and market databases, he/she would primarily rely on the network's word of mouth for business development. He/she will be provided with an opportunity to run research quickly compared to other industry professionals, leading to more accurate dip-stick study results. Product launches will get strong support, and media exposure will be optimized due to relationships developed over time.
IT Professional – Using the power of networking, one can find the right breakthrough in a career. A professional can help acquire a new deal from a client within the network while showcasing knowledge and innovative thought process. A person will learn from peers about the required certifications and skill set needed to move up in the career.
Similar avenues exist for professionals in Procurement, Operations, Finance as well as senior leadership roles. As a matter of fact, most CXO level jobs are closed within the network. As a result, you will find senior executives from Executive Hiring & Search firms engaging in CXO networks.
As I summarize my thoughts and try to address the first question I highlighted (Do a person who is not an extrovert, talkative, and friendly in outside appearance get limited in some way w.r.t networking?), I once again I remember a quote from a dear friend during the initial years of my career - “Love Me or Hate Me, But You Can’t Ignore Me”. Like I mentioned earlier, the answer is ‘No’ if we can work out an approach to mitigate a famous saying – “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”. This statement may be seen from both the ends with different meanings, but looking at the positive side, it helps assure trust and establish a personal brand which can’t be ignored. The key message here is – ‘One doesn’t need to copy others but need to invest in self to engage, contribute and give back to the network’. Our traits and acts will define how we will be remembered, but our contributions will always yield results. While networks are created to foster a trade of ideas to sustain long-term relationships and mutual trust, its every individual’s duty to live up to the expectation by contributing to the development of the network.
Like it was quoted in the famous Spider-Man movie – “With great power, comes greater responsibilities”, as individuals, we may look at networking as a source of power, while at the same time, we need to honour the responsibilities and live up the expectations of fellow colleagues in the network. Networking is a ‘handshake’ and every player owes it to the network. In networking, it is not about ‘ME’ but its more about paying it forward, towards the community. The more you contribute, the better it gets. In the end, one can only say – Net-Worth of Networking is Priceless and keeps growing with time and contributions.
Keep contributing and keep networking!