Is Networking Overrated?

Young professionals are always encouraged and prescribed to “network, network, network!” to A) land that great starter or transition job B) gain awareness among industry leaders and C) discover advancement opportunities or find that dream job. While it is important to be social, adaptable and open to meeting professionals who may end up being a mentor or future supervisor, as the years roll on, it seems the concrete return on networking has a significant depreciation value. I say this as someone who networked rigorously for seven years after moving to Arizona from Seattle knowing a handful of people. There comes a point where you have to be extremely selective in your networking efforts.

Here in the vast Valley, I call it the “one-off” when networking. I have a folder of hundreds of business cards from people I have met over the last five years. They are all friendly, brilliant and successful people in their respective fields of work. I have always enjoyed the conversations with new colleagues and vendor contacts, even when they were brief. However, there are many cases where you never interact with that person again; or perhaps you catch a glimpse or quick hello on a second or third occasion. Courtesy and diplomacy are always the keys to a positive conversation, even if it isn’t likely to yield a long-term relationship or new business for either party. The reasons vary according to everyone’s situation, but they can include the following:

  1. You are located 45 minutes clear across the metro area.
  2. I don’t have the budget for your services, but wish I did.
  3. I already do what you do in-house.
  4. Your focus is B2B; while my core emphasis is B2C.

The situation is different of course when mixing and hobnobbing at university alumni events as the discussions are more about the different campuses, school pride/rivalries, degrees, travel and social interests.

It used to be that I would file contact cards in a folder with plastic page holders and sort them by sector (television producers, photographers, editors, marketing vendors, etc.). Of course, this is a rather obsolete practice given the ease in which you can pull up your LinkedIn contact scroll or scan your Twitter group lists. The intention is always there to keep the cards as a referral option for any colleagues seeking particular resources or services; thus a quick phone call, email or photocopy of the cards could help a colleague out.

Please don’t catch my drift wrong; I am not bashing networking. I still do it when I can and pick my spots in terms of timing and location. It isn’t always easy, as I am 25-35 minutes drive from most events and gatherings. I have a flex schedule in which I work until 6 p.m. and have the day off every other Monday. What this means is that by the time I arrive at some “happy-hour”-type functions, they are usually winding down or the gathering has dwindled significantly.

In the aftermath of a networking session, you are left with a stack of cards, which you may throw in a folder or a desk drawer. When the sun rises and everyone jumps back to their hectic, normal routines of work and life, many of your precious collected networking cards may inevitably start collecting dust in your top drawer with the rulers, those weird-colored pens you never use and old bottles of whiteout.

So I ask you ~ has a meeting at a networking function ever blossomed into new business or a new position?

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