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The What and Why of Networking

9/26/2006 5:45:04 PM

By Ian Morrison

Many people have a negative view of networking. First of all, many people find it intimidating. Having to network may be intimidating for the simple fact that not everyone is an extrovert, who thrives in social settings and is adept at the fine art of the schmooze. Or, people may feel intimidated when they are the outsider in an otherwise close-knit group. This is most often the case when making new contacts or entering a new job, but even within one's current work environment, there are likely to be sub-groups or cliques to which one does not belong. Then there's the embarrassment factor – no one wants to be seen as the type of person who constantly wants something, seems to have a hidden agenda, or is begging for a job. And, finally, it's the image that it's a purely (or impurely?) self-serving practice.

Despite the bad press, networking is simply the process of meeting people and making contacts, which allow one to build mutually beneficial relationships and share information. Networking can be carried out at the place of employment, at work-related functions, and in social situations connected to or away from work.

Why is networking useful?

1. It expands your chances for advancement at your current place of employment

In a perfect world, opportunities would be given, without exception, to the most suitable candidate. In reality, this is not always the case. Performance is often subjectively judged and promotions and other rewards are often given for political reasons – including "visibility." What is visibility? Things like: Who has sat on more committees? Who has done the most in-services for colleagues? Who has helped the nurse manager the most? And being seen also means that, to gain a competitive advantage, you should make an effort to attend office parties and make alliances with coworkers and supervisors. (Attending the office Christmas Party is not only fun, but to your career advantage.)

2. It expands your chances for advancement in your career outside of your current place of employment

Similar to the first option, someone who participates in committees, chats up people at parties (who, it turns out knows someone who is looking for someone to fill a job that's just up your alley), and so on, often is the one who has a competitive advantage.

3. It helps keep you current and/or expands your horizons

Even if you aren't looking to move on or move up in the world, networking is a way to meet new people for social and professional purposes. The people you meet could be the ones who know about social groups for individuals and maintaining networks now will also help you if, 10 years down the road, you do decide that you do want to move on or move up in your career.

4. Helping you to help others, which in turn can help you with points 1, 2, and 3

Being willing to help others prevents you from being the "networker from hell" that gives networkers a bad name. And it keeps your options open, helping you to fulfill 1, 2, and 3.

It is true that the occasional individual – such as the foremost expert in a particular field– doesn't really have to network. These people tend to be treated well and may even be hunted like exotic birds and/or cultivated like rare orchids. However, since most of us are replaceable, we are well served by networking. Just keep in mind that it is not only a process to be used when looking for a job, it is to be used on an ongoing basis in developing and nurturing relationships and to help others.

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