Mahadevan | Rakesh Sharma
Networking has for the longest time been recognized as one of the crucial aspects of a professional’s life. Over the decades, the methods and avenues of networking may have been different and changed according to the dictates of time, but the statement remains as true as ever: network to get ahead.
Of course, this is a skill, but beyond that it is also in some ways a personality trait, the ability to network, form bonds, connect across time and space, keep in touch. As they say, you either have it in you, or you don’t. That, of course, is putting it a bit too much in black and white. The fact, though, remains. And if one puts one’s mind to it, it is definitely possible for even those without the natural ability, to gain the skill to a good degree.
All you need to know about networking and whether or not it works, is what I bring to you today. My name is Rakesh Sharma and the net worth of networking on this edition of Digging Deeper with Moneycontrol.
It could be argued that one can get by without the benefits of networking. Sure. There are plenty of examples of people who have made it in life without great social skills. But the exceptions do not become the rule; they can only prove the rule!
Let’s look at the benefits of networking, which works to best effect in areas of personal or individual enterprise. It is how you spread the word, keep in touch, let people know, and make sure that your name crops up in the right context.
When you break it down to ordinary language, networking is fundamentally about forming and strengthening relationships. And relationships are what matter in the end, in addition to innate talent and all the skills picked up on the way. Networking is also a good way to keep abreast of information in professional circles – information that doesn’t quite become news.
It is difficult for the socially awkward, or for those who protect their spaces and their privacy, to breeze through the formalities and informalities of what networking entails. However, there are ways in which everyone can get to adequately play the game, and the benefits definitely do make it worthwhile.
Let us look at how one might go about it and how it might improve career prospects.
It is worthwhile to repeat this: relationships are what matter in the final analysis, whether at home or at the office. Networking is a good way to build new relationships outside of familiar circles, meet new people, reconnect with those you have lost touch with over time. This is especially useful in the case of small and medium businesses and in professional areas which involve interacting with a large and growing number of people. In the area of business again, these contacts are all potential means to enlarge your business. It is worth mentioning here that networking is not an exercise in trying to get the most from the maximum number of people. That approach is bound to fail in most cases, and long-standing relationships are unlikely to be formed. Give-and-take is implied in the term. The idea is one of sharing, where everyone ends up with more than they started with. The basis of corporate relationships is trust. When a network of trust is formed, it leads to continued benefit, and brings in the element of credibility. This forms a virtuous cycle and becomes self-sustaining.
In a strong relationship, there is constant feedback and reciprocity. So, networking tends to work at two levels. One, at an official or formal level. And two, at an informal level, where people find other ways to meet and strengthen relationships and exchange information. We will get to that later.
Relationships and interactions based on them lead to new opportunities. It might be argued that opportunities are advertised, and one can get to know about them that way. Sure, but there are plenty of positions that get filled through word of mouth. In fact, studies have shown that in certain fields, up to 80 per cent of the vacancies are filled up through personal contacts or through referrals. In such a scenario, knowing the right people can make all the difference where a crucial vertical or lateral jump in your career graph is concerned. Networking in the right circles, you can get to know of the better positions and also more positions than through proper channels.
There are other benefits, too. Whoever you get to hear of the position from might also put in a word about you if they know your professional background and also on the personal front. It can get better than even that. When talk of vacancies crop up in informal settings, someone might just volunteer your name upfront without your even coming into the picture, simply on the basis of what they have come to know of you through networking channels. The advantages are definite. This also means that there is already someone vouching for you, and the areas of trust and credibility and professional capability have already been covered. And maybe, because the credibility of your own friends or contacts is concerned, you might present your best face yet!
And when networking happens through social interactions rather than through official ones, there is the sharing of not just professional details, but also aspects of personality that give a more rounded picture of you as a person. This makes it possible for your contact to better vouch for you. And of course, not to forget, it enables you to do the same for your friend or contact in a similar situation!
Ultimately, it is the constant engagement with ideas that keeps most of us moving forward in our attempt to find solutions. And often, the better the interaction, the better the idea! Coming to networking, the exchange of ideas happens more in an informal setting, when everyone is more relaxed and there is the space to let the mind wander creatively. Especially among people in the same field, this is a good way to wrap one’s head around ideas and processes outside of the confines of the workplace, where the constraints of routine can restrict the mind in being able to freewheel. Often, people in a setting end up thinking along expected lines. Someone who is not part of the familiar setting can often think out of constraints and provide new ideas or even new perspectives on an established or familiar idea or process. Networking builds mutual trust and comfort, and when the interaction happens there is also the advantage that both parties are more invested in each other and end up providing better considered inputs rather than in the manner of courtesy.
This might be looked at as an aspect of the previous heading, Ideas, but it is not really. And one might argue that information is freely available, so how does networking help one become better informed?
Well, information, especially information in particular spheres of activity and knowledge, tends to circulate within silos. It is usually the most general kind of information that tends to disseminate widely, even in this era of almost instant information. This is true of virtually any area of expertise, whether it is science and technology, medicine, marketing. It is proven that being embedded gives one insights that would otherwise not be easily available. Talking to peers is one of the best ways to get information about what’s going on in the sphere of your activity. This is true not just of developments and new technologies that can crucially affect the way you function and move forwards; it is also true of what people in your area of interest are up to and what the latest trends are. And, there is of course no arguing the point of the first mover advantage.
It goes without saying the more widely networked you are, and the longer you have been part of the professional networking scene, the better you can take advantage of the benefits. Well-informed and well-connected is often an unbeatable combination.
It is an established fact that the more visible you are, the more you will be in people’s recall. A corollary to this is that they are also more likely to consider your best qualities. Interacting with people enables them to get to know you better as a peer, colleague, friend, and someone whom they can depend on. Of course, all this depends on how you come across to them. But you can follow some basic principles of social and professional interaction to give the best account of yourself – such as, being a good listener, following up, sharing information, being courteous and considerate, being positive, communicating clearly, and not to forget, having a sense of humour.
Networking also enables you to showcase your personal talents and abilities by giving you opportunities to give occasional presentations and speeches, preside over occasions, make introductions, and being the oil that makes the wheel go smoother. Make the right impression, and you will be remembered at the right times for the right reasons! Incidentally, most of these qualities can also be acquired, mainly through interactions with people who have these qualities. So, yes… networking!
As you can see, networking can help you in your personal career path and also in being better at your job – by being better informed and having a group of people you can call on for favours at the right time – to the benefit of your enterprise or the company you work for.
So how exactly does one go about being part of a professional network?
There are always the many events that one gets to be part of in one’s professional career. This is the primary means to meet peers, giving you the most straightforward means to connect, reconnect and to follow up. These days, professionals themselves, across workplaces and across industries, form their own social circles, and set up their own get-togethers where they get to talk business in the middle of pleasure.
Clubs have always been a place for people to network. This is where one gets to chill, talk about this and that, people and places, situations… essentially, also share in a bit of gossip. It is good to remember that gossip, at one level, is also information!
Sport has for long been a good way for people to bond. Tennis and badminton come to mind. So do outdoor activities such as mountaineering, even daily exercise routines. Golf has established itself as a good way to build a network around a sporting passion, what with the nature of the sport giving plenty of moments of relaxation.
Today, online networking gives one the opportunity to be part of wider people networks without simultaneously investing in additional time and resources. However, it does appear as if technology is not a good enough substitute for pure and simple personal interaction. In a survey conducted among junior executives, more than two thirds of them said they would prefer personal interaction rather than over communication channels. After all, one of the main roles of networking is to build trust and a personal rapport, which can be much better done at the personal level. People tend to prefer meeting occasionally for a short coffee or a lunch rather than do it over the telephone or via video chat.
So, yes, in short, networking works. In many cases, it is crucial. It does happen almost unconsciously and as a matter of course, but there are many instances where a system of networking can make all the difference.
There are many people who are distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of networking, a deliberate projection of oneself. But sometimes it is necessary, and it is not very difficult to pick up some of the basic skills that can help you get networked and reap the benefits of it. Further, whether you think it will take your career forward or not, it is always a good feeling to meet different people and exchange ideas and opinions. People can help you gain perspectives and better understand people and situations, which can help you throughout, whether in professional or personal life. And you can get better opportunities to help others too.
Perhaps you might want to give it a try?