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Forget what you know about networking. Most people are doing it wrong. They treat networking the same way they did lunch in the high school cafeteria — they sit at a table where everyone else looks/acts/does the same thing they do. In this post I am going to lay down a few tips for the networking newbie to follow (hint, PRSSA members can put these into practice at the upcoming PRSSA National Conference).

Networking is Not a Popularity Contest

You are not trying to go out and grow your “social circle” when you network. You are not trying to have the biggest “circle of friends” in the room. You are trying to know more, open doors and develop your skills. To do this properly, you need to know people different from you. Networking with other people just like you leads to having a homogeneous network. You’re essentially still sitting at the same high school lunch table you always sat at. Instead, spend your time seeking out others who have different interests, ideas and backgrounds than you do. Having diversity makes your network much more valuable and much more likely to help you in the future.

Network with People Who Can Help with Tasks and Careers

Blancero and DelCampo suggest developing two different types of networks: task-oriented and career-oriented. The task-oriented network can help you complete your job effectively. For example, if I am a strategy person and I have only other strategy people in my network then who can I turn to when I need help with a creative/design issue? Networking with people who possess skill sets opposite of yours helps you achieve job efficiency.

In addition, networking with people who can help you advance in your career is crucial. Career-oriented networking increases job opportunities, gives you new referrals and creates a support system. How many times have you heard someone say they found out about a great new job/internship/etc. from someone in their network? Look for people who can help you achieve your dreams.

Apply the 80/20 Rule to Those in Your Networks

The 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle) can be applied to the networks you develop. A recent LifeHacker article about nurturing your networks suggests that instead of spending time going out and meeting more, and more, and more, and more people (bad way to use our 80%) to add to our networks we should focus instead on developing relationships with a small few. Thus, we should apply the 80/20 rule as: spend 80% of your time nurturing relationships (emails, coffee, etc.) and 20% of your time establishing new contacts.

Look for a Mentor within Your Network

Mentors differ from networks in that they are one person who should be your role model. Maybe they have the job you want. Maybe they have something that “certain something” you want to emulate. This is where having someone similar to you comes into play. Collins, Kamya and Tourse suggest a  “like mentor like” relationship. Your mentor should be a supporter, advocate and confidant. Mentors have often gone through the same things you have and can help answer many questions you face, help you “learn the ropes” and help identify barriers you may encounter. They can also help filter information you receive — often telling you which parts to pay special attention to.

Image courtesy of wiki commons.

Image courtesy of wiki commons.

As you can see, networking is very important. If you don’t believe me, then check out this blog that lists 26 reasons why you should be networking. This is why you should be doing it correctly. Finding people who differ from you, can help with tasks and careers, and who you can develop relationships with is key. Finding a good mentor from within your network is another important step in moving forward in your profession.