How Important Is Networking When Looking For A New Job?

This answer originally appeared on Quora, and was written by Sheryl Ratnam.

People matter. Random airport interactions can lead to the discovery of new career paths. A spontaneous coffee run can result in a life-long business partnership. The fact of the matter is, wherever you go, the people you meet and connect with will inevitably impact your life.

But there’s a disclaimer to be made here. You can’t expect random Joe on the street to invest in your up and coming startup or barista Susie to connect you with a job opportunity without some work on your end. Networking is a two-way street that most people aren’t willing to travel on.

Alas, there is a lot of glamour surrounding networking today that misconstrues its inherent meaning. Platforms like LinkedIn make your professional network seem akin to just another group of friends of Facebook or followers on Instagram. In order to understand what networking means, we need to ask ourselves what it means to connect. And more importantly, what does it mean to foster a meaningful connection? Is it about exchanging numbers and storing their contact information in an ever-growing directory of phone contacts? Or is it about adding them on LinkedIn and never speaking to them again?

There’s a common misconception that networking is limited to certain quantifiable actions that lead to stale connections. How many of your 500+ connections do you actually talk to on a daily basis? Or at least on a monthly basis? If I’m being entirely honest, I’ll admit that I reach out to perhaps 20 of the 241 connections I have on LinkedIn, and that too, on an extremely irregular schedule. And out of those 20 people, only 7 of them are connections I would consider really meaningful.

But at the end of the day, it’s the most meaningful connections that have paved the way for the most impactful opportunities in my life. A high school mentor who I’ve held close to my heart guided me through the process of getting my first internship, which ended up in a return internship offer to the company. My involvement with Girl Scouts has exposed me to inspiring mentors and friends who motivated me to attend my first hackathon, and piqued my interest in computer science.

However, as a college student, it was initially difficult for me to conceptualize how to establish a meaningful connection without years of industry experience and ample face-time with “important people”. I’ve found that there are three levels to establishing a genuine connection with people, professionals and all (from the perspective of a college student who’s had a couple of internships here and there and enjoys meeting new people everyday):

“Hello, what’s your name?”

A few simple questions can strike up an interesting conversation. An interesting conversation can lead to a follow-up, which can lead to the start of a genuine connection. When I first discovered that several of my friends were connecting with people on LinkedIn without ever having met them, I got a brief glimpse into the complex networks comprised of 500+ connections. In the process of tapping the Connect button on profile after profile, we ignore the power of quality human interaction. Building personal relationships with people starts with a heartfelt, genuine dialogue that inevitably requires time and effort. So don’t lapse into your elevator pitch at the onset. Have a conversation. See where it goes.

Then What?

So you just had coffee with someone who handed you their business card, and now you’re in front of your computer screen, staring at their LinkedIn Profile with rows and rows of accomplishments, so many, in fact, that you have to press See More to get a good, hard glance into their history. This is the point where most people cut off the thread of connection. LinkedIn invite sent? Done. That’s all there is to it. Or is there? Chances are, most people will accept a LinkedIn Invitation, but they’ll rarely remember the person or the conversation behind the invite. So remind them of it. Give thanks for their time and express your appreciation for whatever insight or guidance you gleaned from the conversation. It might also help to give them an opportunity to follow up. Maybe ask a question that recently occurred to you or refer back to something you found particularly interesting.

Down The Road

For most people nowadays, this level of connection rarely exists. Our inherent inclination to be in the now often leads us to ignore or even forget about people we’ve met in the past. It’s easy to say that you should be reaching out to people on a regular basis but it’s understandably (and pragmatically) difficult to remember every single person you’ve met and catch up with them. This is where LinkedIn proves to be one of the most powerful resources available in enriching strong, professional relationships. Despite the seemingly vast networks of flippant connections cultivated by the professional social media platform, LinkedIn also reminds people that their connections are real, human beings doing real-life things. From prompting individuals to congratulate someone on a promotion to providing suggestions on who to reach out to when applying for a particular position at a company, LinkedIn empowers individuals of all backgrounds with the opportunity to maintain long-lasting connections. All it requires is the right amount of patience, persistence, and initiative.

So, sure, networking can help you build up your LinkedIn numbers and increase the amount of business cards you have stacked on your desk. But what’s more important is meaningful, genuine networking that just might affect the course of your career path and your life.

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Life in your 20s and beyond. A Medium publication focused on Work, Freelancing, Money and Life Advice.

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