Why We’re Bad At Networking: Too Much Talk of Networking

Sometimes these posts come out of nowhere.  And they launch series.

I was discussing social capital on Twitter, as best one can at 140 characters a post while taking a walk, and one thing led to another.  Someone brought up why networking wasn’t preached enough (which is the subject of this post) and I realized it’s time to discuss why we’re bad at networking in the first place.

True it may not be “us we” that’s bad, but an amazing amount of people kind of are bad at it.  Worse there’s no excuse for it as we have the tools, technology, information, and we’re naturally social creatures.  If someone can use Facebook to declare their love of beer pong, they can network (as long as they remember to take down the beer pong stuff, seriously people).

So why is it some of us are just so bad at it?  Especially as so many people talk about it?

Well first, to declare why something is wrong you have to declare an ideal end state.  To me that ideal end state is that Networking is about:

  • Making lasting connections with people.
  • That develop social capital – connections, favors, community, etc.
  • Is integrated into your life.

Or really, moving ones sphere of relations ever forward.  Here, I’ll be focusing on the professional side because, hey, that’s what the title is about.  But you get the idea.

So, why are so many of us bad at it?  Why do our job searches become hopeful scrounging?  Why do we find our chances for growth hampered by a lack of connections?  Where the heck did everyone go?

And why does all of this happen in a world where we’re told about networking and social networking.  How is it that we’re still bloody well talking about how bad people are at networking when there’s books and blogs and speeches on it?  How come *I* am still doing it?

One of the factors is that we actually are up to our mental armpits in networking, advice on networking, and being told to network.  I don’t know if this suddenly makes me a cause or a solution (or perhaps a “Causlution”), but let’s explore my theory so I don’t dwell on it too much.

People are sick of hearing about networking.  Hearing about it, hearing career advice blared at us, seeing the books, being ribbed about it, all turns us off.  We tune it out, we ignore it, and in a few cases I bet we do the opposite just to be contrary.  All this networking talk turns us off.

It’s all basics.  This is one of the reasons I call “Quest for Employment” a director’s cut of the job search as it includes “deleted scenes” and explores things we don’t talk about in the job search.  Networking is something where we keep hearing the basics over and over again so we don’t explore – and we get sick about it.

It’s all specifics. A lot of networking advice comes from people who are not only preaching to the choir, sometimes they are the choir.  This flood of networking advice and pressure can get lost because some of it really isn’t relevant to you – but that drowns out the good advice which really is in there, even if it’s lost, crying, and alone.

Lots of talking, little doing.  Networking advice needs to focus on what you have to do (which is why there’s a list of solutions at the end of this post).  Eventually you tune it out. We need to find hard, specific focuses of things to try – which is why sites like Lifehacker, etc. are useful; you get something to use.

Too much of it is crap.  Look with all the advice books out there how much are winners?  Yeah, exactly.  It’s easy to tune out all the advice as a whole as a defensive mechanism.

We pull back as we’re tired of it.  So add up all the hype, basics, and overload and I honestly think people just tune out networking advice.  It’s hard to blame them at times.

So thats one of our situations – networking overload.  So what are the solutions?

  • Try and ignore the networking hype (except when I write it).
  • Learn the basics of networking, yes, but explore interesting, different, better, and more wild and fun ways to do it.
  • Learn what networking skills, focuses, goals, and tools, work for you.  Share them, but focus on yourself.
  • Look for techniques, tools, and advice that focuses on specific solutions.  If something gives you an outline or a goal, that’s a good sign.  An example is my advice to always keep and update a recruiter list.
  • Learn to sniff out good advice.  To do this I’d look at a variety of sources, read reviews, and talk to friends.

I hope it helped to trudge through one more column on networking advice.  I appreciate it.

And tune in next week when we dive into further into the murky world of what we can call “Network failures” . . . if you don’t mind some IT humor.

Which, as that was a lame joke . . . you probably do.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at http://www.fantopro.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at https://www.stevensavage.com/.