A few years ago a friend of mine mentioned that he was going to be at an event where he could encounter someone he would really like to meet, but he wasn’t going to introduce himself because it would seem like networking.
There is of course such a thing as the “networking jerk.” This is the guy who is the insincere, ruthlessly ambitions schmooze artist everyone wants to avoid, and you certainly don’t want to become.
However, the unfortunate existence of the networking jerk should not be allowed to give real networking a bad name. My friend is one of the most sincere people I know, and would by no stretch of the imagination be mistaken for the networking jerk. So I encouraged him to reach out to this person. I said to him “but it wouldn’t be networking, really, at least not in the sense you seem to be thinking. Understood rightly, networking is simply about making friends — and doing it sincerely, because people matter, and not because you are trying to get anything out of it other than encouraging someone and recognizing the value of reaching out.”
Keith Ferrazzi nails this in his excellent book Never Eat Alone: “Those who are best at it don’t network — they make friends. …A widening circle of influence is an unintended result, not a calculated aim.” That’s the first rule of real networking.
And the second is this: have something to offer. Be a person who brings benefit, not a leech who sucks people’s time and energy. Ferrazzi nails this again: “Relationships are solidified by trust. Institutions are built on it. You gain trust by asking not what people can do for you, to paraphrase an earlier Kennedy, but what you can do for others. In other words, the currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”
Understood in this way, “networking” is a very biblical thing to do. It is about helping and being helped. If we care about building up the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), then we have to care about “networking,” because the kingdom of God is built of people — most of whom we have not yet met.