Why is networking important?
Building a community and contributing to someone else’s is how things are done. I’m not referring to hidden job markets. Think about finding a good babysitter or chiropractor or restaurant. We ask others we trust and like for their recommendations. If you have no one to ask and nothing to throw in, you’re stuck with guessing solo.
So really, you build your networks all the time. It’s only when we put it in a work context that it feels awkward. (And I’ve already ranted about how we should just acknowledge we’re looking for folks to like. See November 08 - Please Like Me)
Not a transaction but a relationship
Just because you meet someone in a work context, does not obligate them to help you with your career or work questions. You have to build a relationship with them for those conversations to happen.
Would you give a reference - your name and reputation - to a stranger? Would you expect a stranger to offer you a job lead?
People are not bank machines whereby you can walk up to them and expect to take something away. Networking is not a transaction. Building a community is about building relationships.
By the same token, it’s not quid pro quo either; you don’t have to only take out what you put in. That’s why I call it community. It’s not that everyone gets the same amount of support - it’s that as a united community we all put in what we can and take what we need.
If you think about what we can do for each other on a regular basis: listening, feedback, ideas, and especially helping connect others, then it’s not a disengaged business issue but a long-term plan for yourself, those you consider part of your community and how you want to develop your reputation.