Every professional and every college student has probably heard some variation on the following words: Networking is important. Usually followed by the same sort recommendation, like go to some event or join some organization. I have received the same advice and I followed it. The result was a bunch of business cards and no clue what to do next. What I did not have where relationships with people who knew me or would even remember me. The people giving the advice where trying to guide to the second outcome not the first one.
For this article I will be using networking to mean meeting the most amount of people. This is not an accurate description of what networking is supposed to be. However after attending hundreds of mixers and other networking events, it seems to be one which a lot of people are going with, particularly young professionals, college students and people who are told to go by their bosses.
You could add every single person you meet on LinkedIn and what you will get is a giant mess of people. You will have a massive network but it will be weak. It will be weak because many of those people likely do not remember you and you will likely not remember how you met them. They won’t reach out to you with opportunities and are less likely to offer recommendations.
An alternative is to spend time building relationships with people who know who you are, what you care about, what your strengths are. These people will likely feel more comfortable recommending you, or introducing you to others. Both a recommendation and an introduction require a great deal of trust, they are an endorsement of you and they reflect on the person who endorsed you. How comfortable would you feel doing that for a stranger with whom you have only exchanged business cards?
Yes, networking is important because it is a way to meet people with who you can build relationships. Networking without building relationships is not very effective. Remember that relationships are a two way street, give back or people will not want to help you when you need it.
To sum everything up: Network to meet people. Build relationships to reap the benefits that people say networking will get you. Remember to give back.