Who you know can make your career

Networking is a career imperative in a time when we’re disconnecting from each other more and more.

By Kingsley Aikins The Networking Institute

There’s a real problem with networking. Networking has a lousy reputation, and people generally hate having to do it.

It conjures up images of sleazy, inauthentic people in a stuffy room, flicking business cards at each other at a ferocious rate and continually looking for somebody more interesting with whom to talk.

Yet, most people agree that networking, for all its faults, is critically important to your career.

What people and organisations need to start realising is that, as a person’s career progresses, the technical skills they needed to get a job in the first place will become less important while the relationships cultivated throughout a career become more so.

The core truth of the matter is that life is about connections. One introduction or one conversation can change your life. These conversations can’t happen while you lie in bed or sit at your desk – they happen when you are in motion.

I believe you can make yourself lucky by going to certain places and doing certain things. Think of it as a gentle wind that is always at your back rather than a bolt of lightning that occurs at random.

Network your way to success

We live in a rapidly changing world where technology and communications are disrupting every customer – facing business, where success in the past is no guarantee of success in the future and where the strategies that got us to where we are today will not necessarily get us to our destination.

In this era of high flux, we need to network our way to success. In a very competitive world where ‘life is a game of inches’, your network can make the difference between success and failure.

However, to develop a diverse and robust network it will require changing your attitude to focus on relationships rather than transactions, altering your behaviour and learning some new skills. It will also mean becoming comfortable talking to strangers.

The goal is to build diversity in your network and develop a broad range of weak connections, however painful you may find it at first. Research shows that weak connections can be more helpful than strong relationships particularly when you are looking for your next job.

60% of success is who you know

Harvey J. Coleman, businessman and author, developed an interesting theory around career progression. He claims that how well you do your job contributes only 10% to your career growth.

At first, hearing that sounds ridiculous – surely how well you do your job must account for 80-90% of career progress, right? Coleman explains that strong performance is mandatory, but everyone is pretty good.

Your performance gets you on the career ladder but doesn’t get you up the ladder. You get paid on performance, but you get promoted on what other people think of your potential.

Coleman believes that 30% of career progression depends on your reputation defined as what people say about you when you are not in the room. That last 60% depends on exposure – who has seen you in action. It makes sense – future leadership of your company will not be unknown people.

Building a diverse and robust network is critical for your personal and professional life, and following a precise process of research, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship is necessary to allow you to survive and thrive in a fast-moving, interconnected and interdependent world.

There is a price to be paid for being an average networker. Networking is not about any one big thing but many small efforts which, when implemented daily, become habits and then they are rituals.

What seems, at first, like picking up grains of sand soon becomes a bucketful and will have a significant impact on how your life unfolds.

Kingsley Aikins is Founder and CEO of The Networking Institute and will speak about surviving and thriving with networking at Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Influence Leadership conference in May. This column first appeared in Briefly, from Accountancy Ireland on CharteredAccountants.ie.

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