Mention the term “professional networking” and you’ll get an earful. Some people hate the phrase because they think it’s an inauthentic way of boosting one’s career. Others understand the need for it, but are uncomfortable doing it.
“Networking is often a loaded term,” says Dorie Clark, a popular LinkedIn Learning instructor and author of the new book, The Long Game. “I prefer to think of networking as the way adults make friends.”
I caught up with Clark to talk about the three kinds of networking she reveals in her book–the first type is one to avoid while the next two can dramatically enhance the quality of your life. I know they’ve worked for me.
1. Short-term networking.
This is where “networking” gets a bad reputation. It’s the type of networking when you introduce yourself to someone new for only one purpose–you need them for a job, an investment, or a sale.
Short-term networking makes you look desperate. “Desperation is never attractive, and you should never try to forge new relationships under those circumstances,” says Clark.
Clark has a personal rule that she tries to follow: no ‘asks’ for a year. For example, let’s say you meet a person who is well-known in the field in which you want to build career. In your first email exchanges or conversations, you should avoid making an ask of any kind.
“Sometimes, in the short term, aggressive maneuvers work: people fold and say yes in the moment. But in the long run, it never does. Because when people feel used, they’re never willing to help again,” says Clark.
2. Long-term networking.
The best networkers think long term. According to Clark, you can start building long-term relationships by identifying people in your field who are doing cool things or whose work you admire.
“You don’t have a specific ask in mind: all you know is that this person is worth getting to know,” says Clark.
The relationships I built during my corporate career fueled my business when I launched my own practice.
I once worked for a large public-relations firm where every conversation with a client had to be “billable.” But I liked to maintain relationships with individuals and companies long after our contracts had ended. I celebrated their achievements whether or not our firm represented them.
Needless to say, my boss wasn’t happy with my approach. We had different outlooks. Where he saw billable clients, I saw long-term friendships.
When I quit the firm to start a company, many of those individuals with whom I had kept in touch sent a lot of business my way. And they continue to do so today, some 15 years later.
3). Infinite horizon networking
According to Clark, only the most masterful networkers engage in the type of relationship. Infinite horizon networking is building relationships with people whose expertise seems irrelevant to you today.
“On the surface and in the short term, they might not be useful to you at all,” says Clark. “But they’re interesting. And the fact that they are not plugged into your usual channels actually means they have the potential of becoming your most transformative relationship because they are exposing you to new ideas, people, and opportunities.”
Infinite horizon is almost entirely the kind of networking I do today. It’s responsible for many of my achievements.
For example, about five years ago I met a property developer who contacted me simply to say he liked one of my books. We exchanged emails and I kept in touch with him because he seemed interesting. That’s it. I didn’t ask anything of him, and he didn’t ask anything of me.
About a year later we met for dinner because he had business close to my town in Northern California. A few weeks later, I received a call from Harvard inviting me to teach at the campus. The property developer had recommended me. I’m still teaching at Harvard and remain the best of friends with someone who I found ‘interesting’ and nothing more.
Don’t shy away from networking. If you reframe it as making friends and building long-relationships, networking the right way will improve your life and elevate your career.