Opinion: Dear college grads: I used to think networking was tacky. Now I know it’s the most valuable thing you can do


Dear 2022 graduates,

Early in my career, I had a visceral aversion to tribal activity known as networking.

I had grown up listening to the mantra you advanced in life thanks to who you knew more than what you could do, let alone how well. If you had the right connections, a contact in a position of influence, it was orthodoxy, you could get the right job, the right role, the right salary.

Oh, but at 20 I knew better than to play the old man’s net game. After all, Americans by birth and inheritance are proud to live in a meritocracy, right? The basic premise I loved was that if you prepare properly for the job and career, and if you demonstrate your qualifications extensively, that would do the trick. Performance quality would prevail, overshadowing any other consideration. Employers sprint to hire your services. The doors would open wide, all to the rhythms of “Ode to Joy.”

Why is my resistance to networking, defined in the Cambridge English dictionary as “the activity of meeting people who may be useful to meet, especially in your work”? Because, for me, then, this tradition seemed like a trap. I reached adulthood in the 1970s, very skeptical, even cynical, weaning on Watergate. You probably had to be a CIA agent because you went to Yale. Most likely, you practiced law at a Wall Street law firm because your father played golf with his managing partner every Friday morning. You pulled threads and cut the red ribbon. And so on, to infinity and to nausea.

In short, networking felt fundamentally unfair, even decidedly corrupt. You messed up people just for your own benefit and in an attempt to bypass existing gatekeeper protocols. When looking for references and recommendations, you intended to play with the system and take advantage of it, it is no different than manipulating roulette.

My inflexible opposition to networking persisted through my 30 years, even when I left a job to venture into a full-time job as a freelancer, just when the practice of the vineyard would have made me feel better. . For me it all came down to the question: were you good at what you do? And to my inflexible belief that if you were, in fact, any good, you would automatically be recognized and rewarded.

But it turned out that, following the so-called straight and narrow, always the end, he only managed to get me largely nowhere. Then, as I approached my 40s, a breakthrough. I took a job in a new profession and I immediately hated it: I hated my boss, I hated his boss, I hated the job itself. Luckily, I mentioned my misery to a friend, just hoping to express my grievances, nothing more. As it happened, he met someone who was looking for someone like me. In a few days I was hired.

Better yet, I loved the new job, and to this day I still be friends with my former boss, who is now 97 years old. This job propelled me to a 21-year career as a senior manager with global professional services companies. All the credit goes to the networks unintentionally.

Only a few years later, from stories my family told me, I learned that my two grandparents had been successful as entrepreneurs, thanks in large part to networking. A grandfather, a former bar owner, grew rich by investing in real estate thanks to a friend’s clues. The other, an accountant, got many clients thanks to a very enterprising brother-in-law.

Eventually, albeit slowly and even suspiciously, I made a deliberate stab at the nets. Taking this new direction, I got jobs, clients, commissions, lawyers, agents, book ads, even career opportunities for our son and daughter. Today, as a consultant, I would be away from home without the compound interest that comes from networking.

I’m sorry I came so late to my understanding and appreciation of the value of networking. At best, call it naive. And, at worst, silly. Otherwise, it could have accelerated 15 years of slow progress. He also made more money.

Let’s be honest: we are born on the Net. What do we think the kids are doing in the yard all afternoon? Networking promotes efficiency, consolidates power, and builds reputation. The exchange of favors is Darwinian. The leverage exercised thrives on the strength of cooperation, collaboration, and generosity of spirit.

Everyone knows someone who can help, or knows someone who knows someone who could help. If you want to be helped, often you just have to be more discriminating with the help you render toward other people.

Bob Brody, a consultant and essayist, is the author of the memoirs “Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.”



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