Networking is not work

How many times have you heard someone say, “it is not what you know, it’s who you know?” In modern times, this statement has become an unofficial slogan on the importance of networking. This statement is deeply ingrained in how most of us think about job searching and career development. Since so many people have heard it,  the implication is that networking is the most important driver of professional career development.  

Plenty of evidence exists to support the importance of networking. So much so that we may believe if we just put more work into it, we can have a thriving career. Conversely, we also believe that if we don’t put the hard work in, we will only be able to rely on “what we know.” This we fear, could cause us to lose out on opportunities despite being qualified. No pressure right?  

Researchers have found that as many as 80% of new hires come from candidates who have a mutual connection at a company1. Since networking is thought of as work, or a “thing that I have to do more,” it tends to feel like a chore. We know that when anything feels like work, we tend to avoid doing it. Combine this tendency with a lack of networking “know-how,” sprinkle in societal pressure, and it is easy to see why so many people become overwhelmed. “Networking is not my strength,” or “I’m an introvert anyway,” are common excuses people make as they retreat into more comfortable pastimes and quiet desperation.

The logical, yet demoralizing conclusion for many is that a job seeker who views herself as an introvert, or someone who lacks a vast network must overcome this statistical reality. Negative feelings can easily consume us.

Putting Ourselves Together with Positivity 

This statistic is merely an observation. It is not positive or negative. Our mindset determines how we view this and our mindset is shaped by events such as the obstacles in our paths. A positive attitude is essential to recognize the opportunity that exists around you. Negative, pessimistic, or cynical interpretations of the world will cloud your ability to build relationships with others because you will miss opportunity, and you’ll be less attractive to people.

Few, if any people, want to talk to a person with a negative disposition. As we deep dive into who we are as people, as professionals, and share common interests, we begin to create our world. This is networking in its truest sense. It is a journey worth enjoying.

Our definition of progress is as unique and personal, as our personalities. When we develop who we are and refine it over time, we stand the best chance of understanding ourselves, being memorable and important to others. The more you know yourself, the better you can relate to others. What are your interests? What are your passions? What are you naturally good at? Lean into this.

The growth and trajectory of our lives can be thought of as a puzzle that we construct over time. It happens to be ever-changing and always incomplete, but it is essential that we keep working on it. As we put our puzzle together, we discover interests, passions, and things we are naturally good at. When we piece our puzzle together, we can construct conversations in a way that build common ground with others who feel similarly.

“Drench yourself in words unspoken. Live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.”  Natasha Bedingfield

No one else can write the script for you, as Natasha Bedingfield tells listeners in her song. No one else can know what is best for you. The more we understand ourselves and others, the more we can relate. This doesn’t have to be stressful. The way we connect with others is largely what makes life worth living. It is no different when it comes to professional networking.

“But, I have No Connections 🙁” 

We are social creatures and none of us live in a bubble. Connections are all around us and can be found in endless places. Seek and you shall find. Think about who you know and find ways to connect.

There are friends, family, co-workers, former co-workers, alumni, fellow church members, political allies, people who share your hobbies, friends of friends, in-laws, neighbors, fellow dog owners, and many more. In addition to all of these, there are people who share your interests whom you have yet to meet. When you lean into your interests and get involved in causes that are bigger than yourself.

Networking is not about saying the right thing to the right person in a way that convinces them you are special. Networking is more about planting seeds, building relationships, and nurturing them over time.

Everyone is a Good Networker 

A simple, yet comprehensive definition of the term professional networking could be: “Knowing people of significance to your career path and being known by them.” No matter who you are, you have participated in an effort to get to know other people, and to project the best possible version of yourself. Ever been on a date? Been to a job interview? Been to dinner with friends or in-laws, etc? It turns out that these are all examples of networking and unless you live alone, you likely practice this skill in some form every day.

The key to success here isn’t to be everything to everyone, it is to focus on who you are and how you listen and talk to the people you know. By enriching existing relationships, you would be surprised how much momentum is built for the future. As we piece together the puzzle of our present and future selves, and align our skills and interests, we build authentic friendships.

Getting good at these things, being pro-social, and giving compelling reasons for people to introduce you to others will go much further than trying to “grow your network” by messaging people randomly on LinkedIn, or stressing out about the size of your network. Networking is about the quality of your personal relationships with others and how well you can convey who you are to different people.

It Only Takes One

As with anything else in life, size matters, but it is not everything. Quality matters much more than quantity when it comes to networking. You just have to learn how give, receive, and ask the right questions. There really is no pressure here. Even the most successful networkers are still imperfect. It only takes one connection at the right time to lead to a potential opportunity.

Career advancement is your puzzle to solve. When we refine our expectations, focus on mutual interests with others, and treat people the right way, positive traction is likely. When we gain confidence in our ability to connect with others, we will naturally reach people in a unique and compelling way. When this happens, the seeds of a mutually beneficial, professional, or personal relationship are planted. From there, it is all about building the relationship.


Networking is really not work. It is not a chore, it does not belong on your “to-do” list. It is not something that you set aside time to do. Networking is a mindset, and networking is something you are doing whether it is intentional or not.

When we engage in productive, pro-social behavior with a curious, other-centered mindset our network naturally grows. When we behave in ways that compel others to want to be closer to us, progress is inevitable. It takes time but with constant care and patience, the rewards will come.


1CNBC article: LinkedIn’s data show that those who are referred are a whopping nine times more likely to get it. Experts believe that around 80% of people get jobs through their network.  

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