I was never a social butterfly in high school. In fact, I did whatever I could to get my work done as quickly as possible and not talk with classmates. I liked to be around people but was happiest listening to and observing what was going on around me.
In college that all changed. I still enjoyed listening to and being around people but started to find myself more comfortable openly interacting with individuals – close friends and complete strangers. This comfort level would become invaluable in my career.
That said, talking with people – especially complete strangers – is not something that comes naturally to most. This is particularly true within the engineering and architecture professions – haven’t we all heard the jokes about anti-social engineers? Many young professionals feel unwilling, or unable, to speak up and network when they are so junior in their careers. However, the single most important thing for anyone to do – and master – early in their career is networking.
The Value of Networking
Networking often gets overlook as an important skill because it’s soft, hard to measure, and hard to quantify the benefit. Additionally, it can take YEARS for your networking to really pay off, meaning don’t expect to see overnight results. Just like working out, it takes time, dedication, and consistency. I promise, if you put in the time, you will reap the benefits.
Say early in your career you make it a goal to meet two new people a month that you can reasonably stay in touch with. One year later you will have met 24 people. Two years later, 120. Now think if each of those those 120 people introduced you to two of their friends, expanding your network of people to a total of 360!
As you can see, if you network and stay active in keeping up with relationships, your range of contacts can become quite wide and diverse. This helps when you are looking later to connect with people who have certain work backgrounds, an expertise in which you need advice, or can help you get an introduction to someone you are trying to meet.
Six Degrees of Separation
This brings us to the six degrees of separation law. The law states that we are six people away from meeting anyone on the earth. If there is someone you would like to meet, you just have to work through a maximum of six contacts to get to that person. Person 1 introduces you to person 2, person 2 introduces you to person 3, and so on, until you reach your goal contact.
What does this mean for networking? The wider and larger your pool of contacts, the easier it will be to reach that person you are hoping to meet. The six degrees of separation law tells us that it’s possible for us to be introduced to anyone, so create a big contact list to make it easier on yourself. Who knows, maybe you will find you only need four degrees of separation to reach that person!
Be Authentic and Interested
It’s important to keep in mind that you have to be authentic while you are networking. If you are networking solely for self-gain, people can smell that a mile away. You need to be interested in people, with no interest in really gaining anything. Ask more questions and talk less. Let the person tell you their thoughts.
You need to cast your networking net wide. You never know who will have an important contact. Everyone is worth the effort. Everyone has value. You also need to cast your net deep. Meaning, don’t just flit around and have a superficial chat with lots of people. Find something you have in common with or find interesting about a person and dig into that. This will solidify you in that person’s mind, will make them feel good, and might teach you something new or give you a new perspective on something you already know.
If you have been actively working on networking, keep up the good work! If not, time to start talking!