"You never reach a level where networking is unimportant," says Alexandra Levit, a nationally recognized workplace expert who has written numerous books about getting ahead as a young employee in the business world. "In fact, as you get higher up, it just becomes more important, because everything's done on who you know, and some people like to try to fight that, but that's the way it is so you might as well learn how to do it." Levit says networking doesn't have to be a nerve-wracking experience. "It's something that most people do every day," she says. "It really just means talking to people about what you're interested in doing — if you're enthusiastic about something, it's easier to talk to other people."
Zack Johnson, a Northwestern University junior and communications major, thinks about networking simply in terms of basic relationships. He says he has never had to formally apply for an internship because he was able to use his network. "I feel like networking has this kind of manipulative, sort of very professional connotation, but to me, networking's any sort of human relationship or connection you make," says Johnson, who is working with Northwestern professor and social network expert Noshir Contractor on researching social networking analysis for organization consulting. "Even when you're flirting with a girl, you're technically networking because it's a relational thing; it doesn't necessarily mean you're trying to make money or something."
NOT JUST AN ART, BUT A SCIENCE TOO
While relation-based networking is important, there is a more methodical aspect behind networking as well. For example, there are two types of capital often developed during people's time in school that help them create and expand their network. Human capital is knowledge that you have, and social capital is the information your network knows, Contractor says.
In addition, Contractor says there are four major questions that researchers of social networks are trying to better answer: 1) Who knows what?; 2) Who knows who?; 3) Who knows who knows who; and 4) Who knows who knows what? Respectively, these questions can be translated as: 1) Who knows what information; 2) Who knows which person; 3) Who knows someone who knows someone; and 4) Who knows someone who knows something.
"Very often, today especially, we cannot do everything ourselves," he says. "A lot of what we want, we try to get it from other people and other resources, so social networking is important because it gives you social capital."
Once you take that first step in establishing a relationship by initiating or reciprocating an interaction, you have begun creating your network foundation.
"I think the real meat of it is building relationships and using that as a way to find out ways to help each other through those relationships," says David Fisher, president of Rockstar Consulting, a personal development company which he created through his network. "I think that for someone to be really successful at networking, a lot of it is just a matter of focusing on the long-term growth of the relationship."
Johnson is an example of someone who follows Fisher's advice, which is known as "palm up" networking. "You go into any situation not being like, 'What can this person do for me?' But, 'What can I do for them and help them out and make their life a little bit better?'" Johnson says. He added that even before asking for anything in return, he tries to do a few favors for that person. Fisher says this type of networking often results in "networking karma."
THE ONLINE CONNECTION
After connections are made, social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook serve as ways to keep in touch. In fact, says LinkedIn career expert and spokesperson Krista Canfield, LinkedIn has allowed users — whether they are 18-year-olds or CEOs — to even expand their network overseas and in ways never before possible. "If you're looking for advice, maybe you want to work one day in the United Kingdom, or maybe you're curious about doing business in India," Canfield says, "you can actually find people that are currently doing that, whether it be abroad or people that are located in that country, and get advice from them."
Users can also use LinkedIn to help them with future job prospects, she says. "You can do a search by title for people on LinkedIn, so if you have a dream title, maybe you're still in school, but know what you want; take a look at that profile, see what roles they held before they got there, how long it took them," she says. "Also look up the title that you want immediately and see what your competition is — what do other students and interns have?” Doing this is a good way to make sure your résumé and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date, she says.
Canfield has seen numerous examples of people getting jobs based on their LinkedIn profiles, and with the two-month old addition to the site — grads.linkedin.com (an online resource for recent graduates) —they can learn about the site's features to use them to their full potential and learn how to connect to others.
SHOW YOUR FACE
However, as "important" as sites like LinkedIn are, Contractor says they do not substitute for face-to-face interaction. "I think it's a common myth going back several decades that technologies substitute for face-to-face communication," says Contractor, who researches how to help connect people most effectively by using technologies combined with an understanding of social motivations behind why people want to connect with each other. "What we seem to be surprised by every time when we do research is that technologies are building upon or enhancing face-to-face communication."
Contractor says that all the social media available today, in particular for the younger generation, is a positive thing, contrary to what the older generation may think.
"In our generation, when people thought about the use of technologies, they focused on what they called media selection. For any particular job, I have to decide if the way I want to do my work is through email or through face-to-face or through video conference or a phone call,” Contractor says. He says the younger generation differs in that it looks at the technologies as an “ecology” with different media co-existing with one another. Regardless of age, though, networking and social media use are becoming a more common presence. “It used to be that you’d have to be really creative in order to use Facebook [or other social networking sites] for a business networking purpose, but now everybody’s expecting it, so I think it’s just worldwide that people’s usage of social networks is not just for social purposes; it's for life purposes and workplace and career issues," Levit says.