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Alan’s perspective on the value of networking. As a young graduate starting out, can you make it work for you?

At a business function only a few weeks ago across a crowded room I exchanged glances with a beautiful woman; she made the first move across the floor and introduced herself. We chatted for a few minutes before she asked me what I did and when I answered I was a student, she smiled and replied, “that’s nice” before promptly walking a way. She seemed disappointed – no use wasting those flirty eyes and meticulous grooming – and I left was bemused. As far as she was concerned I had little to offer (if only she knew!) but in another way I understood her completely.

In the past a key component of my job was to generate new business so I would drag myself to chamber of commerce events and try to ‘network’. I couldn’t avoid it. On the whole I found the experience excruciating and rarely useful. I might as well have walked into London Bridge Station and started introducing myself to everyone at the bottom of the escalator.

I enjoy meeting new people and finding common connections and interests but I am not convinced a scattergun approach to networking is beneficial; networking is all about context and relevance. The aim of the game is not to have the biggest collection of business cards but rather to have the largest number of potentially useful contacts. Isn’t it?

In truth it is probably not the concept of networking that I find so problematic but rather the methods used to network. Networking should be about building mutually beneficial relationships with likeminded people and ideally in a professional context with the possibility of collaboration. In many respects I don’t need to find new contacts, what I need is to use my existing network more effectively; for example to ask my friends and colleagues for advice and if they can’t help me, then who can they recommend I talk to about a specific issue. This is real networking.

So in the future I will not be attending network events but I will definitely be confident about approaching my existing contacts and asking for introductions. I will also have no hesitation contacting someone who might be on the periphery of my existing circle. Likewise I consider this arrangement reciprocal. After all, who doesn’t like giving advice? It is a firm acknowledgement that someone values and appreciates what you have to say.

Next up, Daisy on Friendworking – it’s the new craze sweeping the nation…kind of.

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