Networking for a new generation: Be authentic

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You’ve heard the axiom, “You’re only as good as your network,” but how do you get one? It used to be that a network was a Rolodex: A flip-book full of beer-stained business cards collected at an industry brew-ha. Today, your network is the people you truly connect with, and their friends.

Isabella Tsao understands networking. She is an information technology project manager, who enjoys salsa dancing. With the ten or so dance partners she has each night, there is an immediate connection, and there is no pressure to engage in small talk. Tsao says that “you make friends in a wide variety of fields and you get a different perspective.”

Keith Ferrazzi, coauthor of the book, Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, says you cannot get anywhere alone. “Everything you’ve achieved has been done with the help of other people “? parents, teachers, friends, family,” he says. For those people who think networking is for the obsequious and desperate, he advises, “they need to give up their ridiculous sense of John Wayne rugged individualism.”

When Ferrazzi talks about networking, he talks about being liked. If people like you, they will help you, so instead of concentrating on getting favors, focus on being likeable. Otherwise, he said to me, “you’ll wake up when you’re 40 years old in a cube and upset that a 30-year-old is your boss. And you’ll say to yourself that the person got the job because the boss likes him better. And the answer will be, right.”

How does one become likable? Ferrazzi recommends you project yourself as confident, interested, experienced, and excited. But ultimately, you need to create a connection. To this end, share your passions so the other person will feel comfortable sharing his.

After you’ve established positive rapport, share your struggles and the person will share his; the more you understand about someone the better you can connect.

It is not your immediate friends, though, who will be the most helpful to you in a crunch. It’s your friends’ friends. Ethan Watters, author of Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family and Commitment, told me that when you have a difficult problem to solve, like finding a job in a new city, the group of people you know has the same information. “But the people just outside this network are the most helpful: It is the strength of weak ties,” he says.

The current generation intuitively understands this lesson, hence the rip-roaring success of Rolodex-replacing online services like LinkedIn, MySpace and Instant Messenger’s Buddy List.

These community-building tools seem more like ways to keep track of friends rather than to get a job. But in fact, for tech-savvy generations streaming into the workforce, networks of friends are not distinct from networks of career helpers.

Says Watters, “This generation doesn’t make distinctions like ‘we’re friends outside of work.’ Friendship ties are mixed up in all aspects of life.

Asking a friend to recommend you to an organization for a job is like asking a friend to move a couch.” So many of you have a wider network and more effective skills than you even realized.

And now, the inevitable question: “What if I’m shy?” The good news is that shy people aren’t bad at networking, they are just obsessed with what they sound like.

Bernardo Carducci, professor of psychology and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast, told me, “Shy people need to be more other-focused and less self-focused. Think about what you can do for the other person. Shy people worry that their opening comment will not be smart enough or witty enough, so they never get started. Instead, remember that when initiating contact you don’t need to be brilliant, you just need to be nice.”

18 replies
  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I read your article with great interest. It hit a spot with me when you worte: “you'll wake up when you're 40 years old in a cube and upset that a 30-year-old is your boss. And you'll say to yourself that the person got the job because the boss likes him better. And the answer will be, right."

    This is what actually is happening now.
    Although I can get along with everyone but apparently I was told that they have bad impression of me. It sound very contradicting and it seems that for the past 6 years in this oragainsation i dont seem to be able to change their mindset about me. And I’m pertually being bypass on promotion. What do you think I should do? Should i start afresh again in another workplace?

    * * * * * *
    It’s great that you recognize what has happened to you. That’s half the battle. Some people stay and stay and don’t realize they are not going to go anywhere from where they are.So, you probably do need to leave that company and go somewhere where people will really like you. But it seems like a good idea to get some help to figure out where you went wrong at the company so that you don’t do it again at the next place you go.


    • Jason
      Jason says:

      I had a similar problem several years ago, and I got some advice I didn’t want to hear at the time: you need to leave that job and get a new one where you can be promoted. I wound up quitting, and getting a higher-level job at a new company. In essence, I got the promotion I wanted, just not at the company I wanted it at. It was absolutely the right thing to do. My unsolicited advice is to think long and hard before you decide to spend your time and energy trying to remake yourself in the eyes of your colleagues. In my experience it is not usually possible within a reasonable timeframe. Good luck.

  2. clk
    clk says:

    I don’t beleive in what you say, you make a job out to be a popularity contest not that you know how to do your job. It’s no wonder that no work ever gets done anymore because you are tilling people it is more important to be liked on a job then it is to do your job. You can get ahead just becaused your liked and don’t even have to know what your doing. That is also why we have no customer service any more. I don’t go to a job to be liked I go because I need to earn money to pay my bills. Employers don’t care about empolyees any more either. They don’t care if you know what your doing if you young and wear next to nothing to work they hire you and then the person keeps brown noseing to get more money and ahead but know nothing of what they are supposed to be doing. A work place shoud not be a popularity contest your supposed to your job and socialize after hours.

  3. Charles E. Martin
    Charles E. Martin says:

    God, how I wish I could be liked at work. I bust my balls, and I generally want to be a nice person. There is not one evil bone in my body. I am kind to the helpless, the widow, and the orphan.

    I don’t know what it is , but people sneak up to the supervisor behind my back at tell him “I don’t want to work with Charles Martin”, and I never know why!


    I’m really sorry that work is so hard for you. When you know you are not
    liked, and you know you want to change it, but you can’t, it’s time to get
    professional help.

    It’s not always clear when our work problems need a career coach and when
    they need a psychologist/social worker. This problem needs the latter. We
    can all figure out how to be likable. It comes more easily to some of us
    than others. Everyone needs help with something, though. None of us is
    perfect. I add this last part to encourage you to get help because needing
    help is so normal.

    — Penelope


  4. perspicacious
    perspicacious says:

    Ms Trunk, this has been an interesting read albeit typical. Just so I understand you. You are telling people that they should sacrafice themselves in-order to fit the social situation regardless. That they should adapt to the current master at any cost, in this case that master being the social network at work. This isn’t a new trend it is as old as humans the only problem is it used to be implied but now it is driven.

    I have a better piece of advice for those poor hardworking, forgotten, unappreicated souls that will work their asses off and will never be ‘liked’ or rewarded in kind. The reason you, the worthy, are not liked is that you have true, not feigned, self-respect, you are your own person and you come to work to do a job and do well with pride and dignity and the folks that ‘fit’ well and are ‘apparently’ always liked, “usually” are that way because they are whores. So, no matter what you do to fit in they will always know you are your own person and they will never be. This causes an enormous amount of stress for them since they have submitted without question, and you won’t. You see the problem now. Regardless of how nice you attempt to be that rift will always be there. This is why your best efforts to get-along, fit-in or be-liked have failed. Power over others is the only tool they have and since you have power over yourself and a strong sense of self-awareness they can’t coerce your submission. Believe me, they don’t like you.

    So, your options are to accept your position as worker and not player at work and take what gratification you can from the job you are doing since the company and it’s social network are ‘never’ going to reward you appropriately. Your socializing takes place at home with family and hard won friends and that is where it’ll have to stay since there are very few of you in the corporate work place. If you truly want to better your ‘financial’ lot in life then likely as not you’ll have to go out on your own. Start a small company, grow it to a small powerhouse and sell it to the company you previously worked for since all chance of creativity there has been crushed by that ever expanding army of whores they are cultivating. This is why virtually all creative effort is done in isolation and NOTHING new will ever come out of a committee. Management by consensus is the only option for them now and the tumor will only get bigger. Sorry for the long winded pep-talk but Ms Truck isn’t capable of it and I thought you deserved it.

  5. Fazed
    Fazed says:

    My friend made a test on Facebook: he randomly clicked on his peoples lists of friends to see how long it would take to find someone he knew, too. It took him about 5 clicks. This proves that it’s not just your friends and coworkers who are your social circle – their friends and families are, too! Our social circles are way bigger than we normally think they are. That little experiment made me finally understand how networking works and why I was having trouble: I should have relaxed, open myself and as you say, be authentic and connect with others. But instead I tried to be interesting and give people impressive reasons to like me…

  6. John
    John says:

    Is an portion of this taken from nytimes journalist David Brooks? It sounds familiar… from “bobos in paradise,” perhaps?

  7. Mneiae
    Mneiae says:

    It’s fun to see how your reader base used to be smaller. Nowadays, I’d have to scroll through a lot more comments before reaching the bottom.

    Networking does indeed concentrate on finding other people you like who might potentially be useful. Too many of my business-school peers are eager to grab a business card and go. That’s not true networking; that is only grabbing a bit of paper and running.

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