That particular cliché sounds seriously abhorrent, but have you ever wondered whether there was a grain of truth in it? The part about “knowing” people isn’t inherently negative. In fact, the Chinese have a term for this: “guanxi”.
Simply, “guanxi” is a “relationship” or “connection”. This doesn’t mean nepotism or using nothing but your connections to get ahead in life. Instead, this means that you build connections and meet more people in your field, thereby enlarging your “network”.
Networking allows you to find opportunities you might otherwise not have heard about. For example, building connections in your chosen field can help you get wind of new developments, job openings, and other similar opportunities. This allows you to gain chances that might have otherwise gotten past you, with you none the wiser.
A good network won’t prioritize you over other qualified people (in the case of a job opportunity) – that’s nepotism and cronyism – but it can open doors for you. In this case, it’s both whom you know and what you know.
Building a network isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s something that nearly everyone is already doing on an unconscious basis. Here are some tips that could help you build your network:
- Put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to meet people. Whether it’s other departments in your company, or that person you met in a conference – make sure to be friendly and approachable.
- Don’t fake it. People can smell insincerity. Be genuinely friendly. Don’t be too familiar, but do try and find a common point of interest with the people you meet. It doesn’t have to be a seriously massive effort; just be a decent conversationalist, show interest, and most important of all – be sincere.
- Be willing to help. You can’t expect other people to help you if you aren’t willing to extend the same courtesy. This doesn’t mean you should help people because you expect them to help you back. It’s just that if you want others to see you as someone worth their time, you can’t be an unreliable user who won’t reciprocate when assistance is needed.
- Join interest clubs. Within your office, there are people in other departments who might share your interests. Companies usually allow interest clubs, so join one that you’re actually interested in. This allows you to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have met.
- Maintain contact. Try to keep up with your network. If this is someone you usually see around the office, a nice “good morning” or a short chat should work. If your contact is someone you don’t normally see, a quick and friendly e-mail is good.
- Don’t be a leach. This is a network we’re talking about, not a group of people you can mooch off. You want contacts, not godfathers. Try and maintain a friendly but professional relationship, and remember not to be too demanding. Your network will help you, but it’s tacky and unwise to expect too much. Keep demanding and soon you won’t have a network left.
Remember: networking is about building real relationships, not just casual contacts you can use to get what you want. You can find more opportunities through a good network, but you’re expected to give back and reciprocate to keep the network healthy and growing.