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Why Networking Is Important For Career Success
“Experts agree that the most connected people are often the most successful,” says Amanda Augustine who wrote “The Importance of Networking (and How to Do it Well)”. Many see networking as a social evil. Instead try to look at it as an opportunity to gather information. Augustine further says, “networking will help you develop and improve your skill set, stay on top of the latest trends in your industry, keep a pulse on the job market, meet prospective mentors, partners, and clients, and gain access to the necessary resources that will foster your career development.”Connections help you in the lifelong evolution of your career.
It's Harder For People Early In Their Career
Carleen Kreider, one of our AVA co-founders who has successfully managed and connected business people around the world, recently noticed how hard it is for younger career people to actively network. “I was at a networking event at a university where I coach business students on the soft skills they will need as they enter the workforce. I was struck by how difficult it was for first-timers to approach industry executives and faculty who were in attendance. It was a welcoming, safe environment. These professionals are there precisely to give the students advice and a helping hand. Yet very few of the students took full advantage of the career opportunity.”
Being A Woman Has Disadvantages Too
Data has historically suggested that the professional networks of women were less powerful and effective than those of men. Newly published research, "Why women build less effective networks than men: The role of structural exclusion and personal hesitation", found two broad types of barriers:
Extrinsic barriers of structural exclusion result from work-family conflict and seeking out others similar to themselves.
The intrinsic barriers result from women’s hesitation to capitalize on social ties.
As extrinsic roadblocks may be more difficult to overcome, we'll address the three main intrinsic barriers under the category “personal hesitation”.
1) Women network with lower-level employees and peers
Women tend to approach and network with people they have common social standing and social interest. As relayed by Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of many sociology books on communication and women, “…I observed what happened at lunchtime. I saw young men who regularly ate with their boss, and senior men who ate with the big boss. I noticed far fewer women who sought out the highest-level person they could eat with.”
2) Women feel uncomfortable with the exploitive nature of networking
This study found that women felt they weren’t being genuine if they developed a connection with someone simply for self-advancement. Rather, the participants expressed being motivated by developing personal relationships instead of utilitarian motives. Additionally women suffer from lack of confidence regarding their network contribution. A study from Cornell University discovered that while women underestimate both their abilities and performance, men overestimate both, when in reality women’s performance does not differ from men’s on average.
3) Women feel excluded from stereotypically male activities
Although some women may participate, activities like corporate golf outings, events at sports stadiums, and athletic teams are often organized by men. So the tend to be unconsciously biased toward male interests and male culture. And if women don't participate, it excludes them from face-time with top leaders. Additionally the traditionally female activities, such as baby showers, cookie exchanges, yoga, are rarely attended by senior executives also misses an opportunity for women to interact with the senior team.
Practice Courage To Improve Networking
These intrinsic barriers are rooted in uncertainty and possibly lack of understanding of the importance of networking. Believing in the long-term career benefits of networking is important. Networking out of your comfort zone and allowing yourself to be opportunistic about it are important steps too. Most important, practice, maybe in a safe place first. But practice often. You might fail and you might get a lot of rejection. Alex Banayan, the 25-year old author of The Third Door: The Wild Quest To Uncover How The World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers, says, "courage, however, happens when you acknowledge your fear, analyze the consequences, and decide you’re still going to take one step forward anyway."Here are some ideas on how to do that.
Use company events as an opportunity to gather information. Even if you don't do too much of the talking and you just sit in the stands at a game, you can learn a lot about the power dynamics observing your counterparts and your senior leaders. Our upcoming AVA Anchor Power & Influence workshop is a great way to learn to identify the power players in your workplace.
Find a safe place where there are mentors or peers to help you practice your networking skills. Start with an organization or an event that is you feel passionate about and makes you feel comfortable. Also, at each of our AVA workshops, we start with networking time. We're happy to have you there and to help you progress your skills.
Once you've gained more confidence and practice, figure out who the power players are in your career path and set a meeting or have lunch with them. As Alex Banayan says, no matter how many rejections you get, there is always a way in:
"What no one tells you is that there is always, always . . . the Third Door. It’s the entrance where you jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open the window, sneak through the kitchen—there’s always a way. Everyone has the power to make little decisions that can alter their lives forever."
What topics do you want to discuss? Let us know in the comments below. #advancewithava