Why the best thing I did was never learn how to network

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Networking has always been the solution to all career advancement questions for as long as I can remember. What if I told you that was the one thing I never did and why you shouldn’t either? The standard definition of networking is the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. It’s also one of the major sources of discomfort and anxiety for professionals and leaders. So why would we subject ourselves to that or make that a recommendation for career advancement?

I can recall many “networking” events in which I was stopped by someone I didn’t know who happened to see what company I represented on my name tag. They would then proceed to engage me in a very awkward conversation or shall I say a very direct interview. The typical format included an introduction of themselves and then a rapid fire round of questions regarding what I did for said company and finally a pitch of some kind. By the pitch portion, I had tuned out and was plotting my exit strategy if I had not exited already. I also recall many LinkedIn messages where that awful interaction would be recalled that I had already erased from my mind.

Thankfully there is another strategy you can implement that will reap many rewards professionally. That is called connecting. Connecting is a term I’ve adopted and define it as making an authentic attempt to learn or assist someone. Unlike networking, the purpose is to create a mutually beneficial relationship that is sustainable over time. It requires a specific set of skills in order to master. You must listen, empathize, want to help others and have an open mind.

A critical mistake many people make is thinking they only need to connect with others who they feel can help them directly or are where they see themselves professionally one day. In my personal experience, I’ve had many opportunities given to me by those who fall outside of these categories. I remember one instance where someone most would perceive to be way down the food chain at a company referred me for a position. It just so happened that this person was well respected and had enough clout to bring my resume to the top. That position was one of the most rewarding experiences I had.

In an effort to save yourself from being at the wrong end of a very painful experience, I suggest removing the concept of networking from your repertoire. The focus should be on connecting with others with the intent to learn first and then offer assistance if applicable. Using this strategy you have a greater chance of making solid connections that can help you grow as a professional.

If you have a question or are interested in learning more, connect with me.

RJ Johns