Why ‘Networking’ Should really be called ‘Relationship Building’

By Emily Pease

I recently attended a networking seminar organized by my friends at our mutual alma mater, the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University.

As the President of our alumni association and one of the core organizers on the Leadarise NYC team, I like to think that I am a seasoned networker. I’d even go so far as to say I’m above average – I no longer have a fear of starting conversations with total strangers and I enjoy the opportunity to meet new people. So my attendance at this networking seminar was more to provide moral support for my friends, rather than to expect takeaways.

I quickly realized that I am a networking novice and have been taking the wrong approach to networking. It’s not just about meeting new people, sharing business cards and hoping one of those business cards will lead to a new opportunity. Instead, networking should really be called “relationship building,” or getting to know someone on a personal level and finding shared interests.

Networking at Leadarise events focuses on building genuine relationships, not just exchanging business cards
Networking at Leadarise events focuses on building genuine relationships, not just exchanging business cards

This is an important message that extends far beyond networking for a job and applies to managing all kinds of professional relationships with managers, co-workers, clients, prospective clients, mentors, etc.

Here are the 5 key takeaways I learned at this event:

  1. Networking is still an important conduit to landing a job. As reported by LinkedIn, 68% of jobs are landed via personal connections and referrals. Anecdotally, I have heard repeatedly from my colleagues that this is how they landed their current positions. Standing out from the crowd in a sea of resumes is incredibly difficult, but having someone put in a good word for you, or at the very least help pull your resume out of the pile for a closer look is invaluable. Even after you’ve landed the position, most on-the-job training is done through connections. Developing important relationships within your organization will help make sure your name comes up when there are new professional development opportunities.
  2. Networking is relationship based, not transaction based. Coming home with a huge stack of business cards after a networking event doesn’t do much to building a network of value. The real value comes when you have developed a deeper relationship and built trust. This means that your interactions should be genuine and warm.
  3. Apply the relationship-based approach (5 key tips to remember):
    • 1) Focus on the PERSON, not on the POSITION: Your interest should be in the individual and how your interests align, not what they can do for you.
    • 2. LISTEN: Truly pay attention and have a genuine interest in what you can learn from them.
    • 3. HELP: Always be aware of how you can provide a value-add for the other person.
    • 4. CARE for the relationship: A ‘transaction’ is a often a one time exchange, a relationship is built by creating continued valuable connections.
    • 5. CONNECT: Always think about how you can connect the members of your network with one another. This helps build trust and credibility.
  4. Networking Takeaways. A few things to keep in mind during a networking event or a meeting:
    • 1. Ask for any suggestions or advice they may have to share with someone in your position.
    • 2. Try to come away from the meeting with three new contacts they would be willing to put you in touch with.
    • 3. Always think of ways you can help them.
    • 4. Stay. In. Touch.
  5. Pay it forward Many of us can point to a friend, colleague, reference, or mentor who put in a good word for us professionally and helped us advance our career in one way or another. Knowing how important this piece is to professional growth and development, don’t you think you should give back? As the wise Kevin Spacey once said, “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.”


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