Only curiosity leads to knowledge.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
What is one of the most powerful career levers? No, it is not specialist knowledge, nor a solid understanding of the business at hand, nor your qualification (and most certainly not your fourth, fifth or sixth qualification, dear ladies!), nor your diligence, nor your good looks.
In addition to successful self-marketing, the answer is creative and strategic networking. But what does “creative and strategic networking” actually mean? If the term brings to mind people who pull out and distribute their business cards at every opportunity, boring drinks parties, or 3000 Facebook friends, it is easy to understand that you don’t really want to engage with the topic.
For, in addition to the “creative and strategic networking” that will be described below, there are also outmoded and unpleasant forms of networking, for instance, closed circles, such as fraternities or certain service clubs, purely transactional business in the style of “I did you a favour at some point in the past”, or drinks parties with the sole aim of kowtowing to a boss whose jokes have to be laughed at.
Modern authors such as Keith Ferrazzi (“Never Eat Alone”) or Alexander Wolf (“The Essence of Networking: Dictyonomy”) are proponents of enjoyable and value-based networking. For them, a network is not a closed circle of benefactors and favourites, but an open group of interesting people interested in exchange and mutual support. A functioning and modern network is characterised by openness and trust. Entering into a network is always by means of “giving without an immediate trade-off”. The currency of the network is always generosity instead of greed. Every person in the network is his or her own brand, and the main focus is on personality, knowledge, humour, and genuine hospitality. Everyone is prepared to share time, knowledge, relationships, and even money. The kings and queens in this network are those bringing other people into contact with each other and helping others to achieve success without benefiting directly themselves. A networking career could consist of the following steps:
1. I offer successful and interesting people my time and knowledge.
2. I present myself as an autonomous “brand” and as a person with a wealth of interests (this is where self-marketing comes into play!).
3. I help other people achieve success.
4. I become a host and a link-creator.
Network relationships are sustainable only if they are characterised by genuine interest in other people. In addition to success and a career, getting to know interesting people is the main benefit of networking. Why does Keith Ferrazzi never eat alone? Because he likes to be with and eat with other people, which also helps him achieve success. But it always has to be stylish and enjoyable.
Getting into networking is not for everyone – and women find this particularly difficult. In my courses and coaching sessions, I come across numerous examples of resistance, fear, and sometimes even rejection when it comes to the topic of networking. Here are some of the most frequent objections, which are usually expressed by women:
– “Am I not taking advantage of other people if I approach networking “strategically”, i.e. with the aim of achieving my own goals?”
– “I have nothing to offer.”
– “I don’t accept requests from people I don’t know on social media.”
– “I don’t feel comfortable at drinks parties, which is why I don’t attend them. I have other interests in my leisure time.”
– “I don’t know any successful people.”
The first response to these concerns could be: nobody has to do anything. It is completely legitimate to do a good job in one’s own office and nothing else. However, this comes at a price.
A further response could be:
I am not taking advantage of others if I am also prepared to give. The exciting thing about networks is that something always comes back, but frequently not from where your contribution was made.
Everyone has something to offer, even if it is simply an interesting article or information on a topic that your counterpart is passionate about. However, at the same time this also means that I need to know something about my counterpart, and that I need to be genuinely interested in the person I am dealing with.
Research has shown that the most effective connections in a network are the weakest relationships, known as weak ties. This means that the greatest benefit is not derived from close and direct acquaintances, but from acquaintances of acquaintances who, in turn, have access to other networks. We should be interested in requests from people we don’t know, irrespective of whether these reach us through analogue or digital means.
Although drinks parties are not leisure events, but are actually work-related activities, it is always pleasant when they are fun anyway. What is a successful networking drinks party? An event where I only speak to people I didn’t know beforehand (see “weak ties”).
And if you don’t know any successful people, it is high time you started networking!