networkingIf you find that the word “networking” makes you want to run in the other direction, you are not alone. Many people are intimidated by the thought of networking.

But what if your current reservations about networking are incorrect? Abandoning those beliefs could actually help you find your next opportunity to build on-the-job skills.

MyCareer@VA can help you bust some commonly held myths and give you research-based tips to help you find a networking approach that works for you. 

Myth #1: A bigger network is better. Many of us assume that being a “good networker” means having a large network, where the more contacts and connections we have, the better off we are.

However, research shows that a larger network doesn’t necessarily mean stronger job performance. Instead of focusing on size, you should aim for a network of diverse, high-quality connections with people who you trust and find energizing.

What to Do: So, how do you create a network that is measured not by its size but by its support of your professional goals and interests? It’s all about being genuine.

The most powerful networks include relationships that advance the expertise of both people by exploring their shared interests. Begin by listing topics you find interesting and that align with your career aspirations or current projects. Then, reach out to begin or renew relationships with others who might have expertise in these topic areas. Consider professional associations, friends of friends, online social networking groups, and former classmates as sources for finding these contacts.

Myth #2: Extraverts do it better. Many of us have a stereotype of the ideal networker – the salesperson who loves nothing more than to “work” a huge room at an industry conference or happy hour.

However, research suggests that both extraverts and introverts can find effective approaches to building their networks. The key is to find an approach you enjoy. If you try to build your network in a way that feels false, you won’t want to do it.

What to Do: To figure out how you like to build relationships, think about the professional colleagues you find energizing and make a list of how you met them. Were you going through a shared challenge at work? Did you meet at a training event or conference that focused on a shared interest?

Next, think of ways to purposefully put yourself in those situations more often. For example, say you are more comfortable building connections with others gradually through a shared activity. Consider volunteering for more work assignments that put you in contact with people you’d like as part of your network.

Myth #3: Only strong ties are a source of support. In your professional network, your “strong ties” are your closest colleagues. Many assume it is only appropriate to make a request for help or information of those who you interact with most frequently.

However, relying on only your strong ties can limit your career. If your network consists only of people who work closely together and know one another, you are likely shutting yourself off from new ideas that stimulate innovation and creativity.

What to Do: Think of ways to reach out to those who you don’t see as part of your regular work schedule or other commitments. Focus on those who are in different geographic areas, industries, or roles. This is where social networking sites such as LinkedIn can be helpful. Get familiar with LinkedIn tools that help you to see friends of friends, and don’t be shy about asking your friends for an introduction to their contacts who can open you up to a different set of insights and opportunities.

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