By Dillon Zwick
When I first started networking, I thought it was going to be challenging to connect with VPs, Partners, and CEOs and easy to meet with other analysts, associates, and people early in their career – but I found that the exact opposite was the case. Executives of Fortune 1000 companies can be difficult to get a hold of, but in the middle market, where most business takes place, leaders are much more accessible and it’s the people near the bottom of the totem pole that are the most difficult to meet. It turns out that junior members haven’t had someone in their life sit them down and explain how the game is played. I know that I didn’t have the benefit of that lesson. This article is a summary of the six reasons you need to be networking that I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way.
Having a competitive advantage in business is a rarity, not the norm. Most products are commodity products and most are indistinguishable from the other in any significant way. Don’t believe your firm’s propaganda on what makes your company different. In reality, people make purchasing decisions based on who they know and trust and then justify their decision.
One day you may find yourself responsible for finding opportunities and bringing in business for your organization. You can either get started now or wait until you have director level responsibility to find out that you can’t succeed until you start doing what you could have started now. On average, it takes two years to build a network robust enough to start generating work. Becoming a junior mist maker now is the only way to become a major rainmaker down the road. Starting now will give you a head start, and the people with whom you share a networking drink or lunch now will one day be their companies’ decision-makers.
Two: Career Advancement
Technical ability caps out surprisingly early in one’s career. In just a few short years, you can master the technical requirements of your craft. To advance in an organization, you’ll also need to develop interpersonal and management skills. The real power in today’s networked economy is no longer based on what you can accomplish on your own. It is how large of a team you can assemble to bear down on a problem.
As you move up through an organization, you should keep succession planning in mind and recruit people to fill your spot and work alongside you.
Three: Job Security
A mentor once told me, “A company can reach record highs one year and be out of business the next. Job security is always knowing you have another job.” The economy moves in cycles, with massive layoffs happening about once a decade. Don’t be caught unaware and use networking to be sure you’re prepared.
It is estimated that up to 85% of job seekers obtain their new positions through their network. That is a staggering statistic. When a hiring manager receives 200+ nearly identical resumes per day, the person who is most likely to get the job is the person who has been getting drinks with the hiring manager or another connection in the company for the past five years. People hire people they want to work with over pure technical ability. Technical skills can be taught; personality and attitude can’t. “Hire for fit, train for skill.” is an adage that continues to be true.
Don’t forget, you can be competitors with a rival one day and co-workers with them the next. Find the people in the field that you want to work with, and then find ways to work with them. At any moment, you should have several people to call to get your next job if your company goes belly up.
Four: Health and Happiness
Millennials have been called the loneliest generation. Friendships seem to have a natural lifespan, with most only lasting for a couple of years. By the time one reaches their 30s, one’s college friends are fading away. People move away, have kids, or become overwhelmed by various obligations. This time of life is the first time for many that they have to be deliberate about making friends. Until then, proximity and time and the lack of demands outside of school or work have made it easy for people to connect over shared interests. Networking as an adult is merely finding the people you enjoy spending time with who have chosen the same field as you.
According to one famous Havard study, close relationships are the number one predictor of happiness in people’s lives. This factor outweighs how much money one makes, how famous they are, their IQ, and their genetics. These close relationships are also credited with causing people to live longer and healthier lives. Networking is a great way to develop new relationships over a shared interest in one’s work. After getting through the initial drudgery of starting any new skill, I’ve found a significant amount of joy in networking. Some contacts have become close friends, others I keep in touch with because I enjoy their perspective even with no clear path that we will ever work together.
In a pivotal study by MIT Media Lab on childhood learning and social development, they identified three stages to learning new skills – Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. For example, when learning chess, someone might hang out with friends and play a casual game. Messing around would mean going to local chess tournaments or workshops. Those who geek out have left their initial social circle entirely and are traveling to meet the best of the best in the game.
Networking is for those who want to geek out on their craft. To become the best in your field, you’re going to have to leave the comfort of your social circle to venture out and meet others looking to do the same. Getting to this level gives you access to mentors who are experts in their craft and can answer complex questions that you won’t be able to find answers to on Google.
Six: Lifelong Learning and Access to Information
If you solely rely on books and YouTube, then the information you receive is limited to the few people in your field who enjoy writing or public speaking. The news is watered down, key concepts get lost in translation, and what people are willing to say publicly vs privately are often worlds apart. Books take several years to get published, while tweets can be dubious or lacking substance, neither of which is very helpful if you’re trying to hone your craft.
For these reasons, the vast majority of cutting edge insights and information isn’t publicly available. If you want to know what’s going on in your field, you’re going to have to talk to people personally. The only way to ensure that you’re having these critical conversations is to know the people in your field, and regularly networking is the way to ensure that happens.