by Charu Kohli

Then – ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know!’

Later – ‘It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you!’

Now – ‘It’s not who you know, it’s who knows that you know!’  

The above is just an example of how thinking around networking has evolved over time. This also underscores the importance of social capital and people networks today. While human capital is your knowledge, skills, capabilities and experience, social capital is the resources you can access through your network of contacts. Given the hyper competition, globalization and numerous other factors that influence our professional and personal lives, turning ‘networking’ or ‘building social capital’ into an advantage rather than thinking of it as a liability should be our priority.

The connection conundrum

While the benefits of networking are well established, we often find ourselves in situations where we can’t figure out the ‘how’ of networking. Here are a few tips that might come in handy!

Join professional organizations: Why are other people passing you up? Why are your peers getting meatier assignments or better jobs? Instead of sitting around and waiting for answers, Millennials are figuring it out themselves and, in the process, reinventing the paradigms of social capital. Social capital helps one get recognized and recommended, builds relationships and ensures reciprocity. In fact, according to Buzz Marketing Group’s ‘Professional Organizations Study’ the value millennials put on social capital is fueling the reemergence of younger professional organizations, especially those that have been formed by their peers. This article talks about some interesting findings from the study and the relevance of joining such organizations and networking effectively.

Give and then take: Before you think about how your network will benefit you, think about how you will benefit the network. At an event, try to listen to others before talking about yourself. You never know where you might be able to help, and this can be one of the fastest ways to get on someone’s radar.

The key is to build your social capital over time. Stay in touch with people consistently, not just when you need them. The value that’s placed in investing time in networking is corroborated by the fact that people use networks for not just ‘professional benefits’ but also ‘quality of life’ benefits. Here’s an interesting infographic on the evolving art and science of networking to help build lasting and valuable relationships.

Focus on network breadth and depth: Diverse networks (network breadth) can be your windows to the world and can help get access to different views, resources and information. Going beyond homogenous groups also helps foster innovation, as has been proven by numerous studies on the topic. Deep networks or networks where you have strong ties take time and frequent interaction to emerge, however, there are increased chances of reciprocity once these networks are build. Building a successful network requires working both on the breadth and depth of your networks to yield the desired benefits. Cultivate new connections, but don’t let go of the old ones.

Navigating the networking events maze

There’s no denying that networking can be mentally and physically draining. While attending events/conferences is one of the most important ways to network, a lot of us are not extroverts and can find ourselves in difficult situations during such meetups. The key is to find your comfort zone and capitalize on it. Here are some ways to go about it:

Network on a budget: It always helps to think about the end goal while planning to attend a networking event. Choose the right events where you’ll find like-minded people who share a common passion. Networking for the sake of networking never works, as time and money are of premium to all of us. Connecting with people over activities rather than events could also be a way to network wisely. Use both informal and formal settings to build relationships.

Volunteer at meetups: If going up to random people and initiating a discussion is not your thing, try volunteering at the registration desk/food table etc. at events. This will give you a chance to talk to other people without a lot of effort from your end.

Research the attendees: Before any networking event, research the sponsors, attendees, speakers and other guests. This will not just help you become familiar with people and find common ground before you meet them, but also help in building lasting conversations beyond the standard questions.

Keep your energy levels up: Networking can be exhausting and just when you think the evening’s coming to an end, you spot someone who you have wanted to meet for a long time or someone comes over to talk to you. In situations like these, make sure that you appear and sound enthusiastic and not give way to tiredness. You never know when you’ll strike gold!

To summarize, building connections shouldn’t be something you dread, but something that you’d enjoy doing. It’s easy to put networking at the back burner when you are busy at work, however, for it to truly benefit you, it needs to run in parallel to your other activities.