What are your first thoughts when someone suggests that should be "networking?" Networking is often a "what's in it for me" enterprise. For the introverted, like myself, and for those who tend to procrastinate with their career and job search plans, professional networking is something we try to avoid. Asking for help doesn't always come easy.
A recent Entrepreneur article introduced me to the concept of connecting and I thought I would pass it along here. For online students engaged in career development and job search activities, the networking process can take a different perspective through participation in social networking systems and online communities. Connecting is a new way to look at networking and its related activities that may lead to information about work and jobs.
Characteristics of a Connector
Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point describes connectors as "people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances." Author and entrepreneur Keith Ferrazzi highlights some of the benefits of becoming a connector in his book Never Eat Alone. Ferrazzi asks that you focus on relationship building and "the power of generosity. When you help others they often help you." The connecting process involves more than just reaching out to ask for help. It includes offering assistance to others by sharing knowledge and resources.
You may already be a connector and probably know someone who fits the description. These people are your classmates, friends, family members, and co-workers, who always seem to have a relevant resource ready or are willing to give you a hand in some helpful way. Here are a few additional characteristics of connectors:
- Interested in and knowledgeable of a wide range of topics.
- Always willing to learn something new.
- Seek out opportunities to get to know new people.
- Assist others, even when there is no personal benefit to be gained.
- Make unique or unexpected associations among people, ideas, and topics.
Here's a brief to-do list to get you started on the road to connecting with others. As you review these items, consider additional actions you might include. How does the role seem similar to or go beyond your thoughts of traditional networking?
- Find out about others. Job search and career strategist Hannah Morgan provides a list of tips for "Networking or Whatever You Want to Call It" that includes advice for connecting. Morgan suggests that you "make networking 'other-centric'." Get to know others in a way that is meaningful and may reveal shared interests.
- Join a new group. One where you don't already know someone. This group shouldn't be focused on "networking" but should center on a topic in which you have an interest. Place yourself in the midst of a new crowd with the goal to connect.
- Be helpful. Look for opportunities to share your expertise with others by answering questions, providing different kinds of support, and recommending tangible resources or next steps.
- Consider "what's next." Connecting is not a one-time thing, but instead a continuous process. Once you get started, keep asking yourself and those you connect with about the next step. Educator and author Nancy Schlossberg suggests that "Malcolm Gladwell's concept of the connector works as a 'what's next strategy'." Connectors can help you through multiple stages of career exploration and development.
- Follow up. Ferrazzi points to this as critical to the process of networking and connecting. After participating in an event at which you meet new people who have shared interests, contact them afterward to find out more about them. And so the experience of connecting continues.
Rethink Your Approach
Whether you are interested in becoming a connector yourself, or in seeking out connectors in your professional work, think outside of the "networking" box. The role of connector can include a range of assistance through facilitating conversations, curating resources, and recommending solutions or next steps.
- Be sincere in your participation in connecting and networking of activities.
- Be alert for opportunities to learn more about your career field.
- Be open to new ideas and possibilities you may never have considered before.
There is a place for both traditional networking and new strategies for connecting as you work to meet your education and career goals.