Networking: Does everybody need to schmooze to get on?

Business people drinking Forget the pleasantries, let's talk back office outsourcing opportunities

January is a month for self-improvement like no other, with many people "networking" to get a new job. One business school has gone as far as appointing a "professor of networking", but do you still need to schmooze to get ahead?

Many people will have observed a good networker in action.

Pausing between mouthfuls of prawn vol-au-vents to gaze Peregrine Falcon-like around a busy room, they pick their prey with aplomb.

Swerving in between those who lack the power to enhance their career, the networker closes on the target and makes conversation that feels warm and genuine despite - in reality - being dominated by coming opportunities in "business process outsourcing".

But for less ruthless folk, networking can all be a bit harrowing. Some don't feel comfortable "working a room" with guests that they have nothing in common with.

Others struggle with the notion of contrived conversation where both parties know that the other person is after something - be it insider knowledge, a contact or work.

For these people LinkedIn and Twitter may have come as a bit of a blessing, allowing an altogether less socially taxing form of networking, at a time when a difficult jobs market makes pursuing every opportunity more important than ever.

Tim Campbell Tim Campbell has come a long way since winning the first series of The Apprentice

But in the era of digital buttonholing, is traditional schmoozing still important? And can it be taught?

The appointment of Julia Hobsbawm as the "world's first visiting professor in networking" at London's Cass Business School might suggest so. Hobsbawm believes networking should be a core skill, like driving or computer literacy.

"In a time of recession, people need their soft skills honed every bit as sharp as their hard skills. Networking is poised to become the most valuable soft skill on a CV," Hobsbawm says.

So do the hours we spend on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on a daily basis count towards our networking quota?

"Face-to-face contact is much more important in the 'Facebook age' because technology can create isolation despite its many benefits," argues Hobsbawm.

"Trust is the biggest single asset a person can have and face-to-face contact provides this better than any other form of engagement. But everyone needs to be connected on social media too. The more blended your information sources, the better."

Networking, as "the action or process of making use of people for the exchange of information or for professional or other advantage", first came into common parlance in the 1970s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Julia Hobsbawm Julia Hobsbawm thinks networking should be considered a core skill

Before social media was born, networking was something you only did face-to-face at the local pub, a chief executive's mahogany office or in between stuffing your face with smoked salmon blinis in a soulless conference room.

Young people might now be totally au fait with social networking sites, but are not aware of all the techniques of more traditional networking.

Apprentice winner Tim Campbell, who was recently awarded an MBE for his services to enterprise culture, believes this is because networking is not presented in a positive light let alone as a skill that should be learnt.

"Networking is definitely a skill that can be learnt but it is seen as a bit of a dirty word. Americans see it as an essential part of business thanks to sororities and fraternities at universities where life-long links are made. That's an alien concept for most people that come out of our education system."

Campbell admits networking is hard work if done the right way because it involves keeping connections "warm".

"It's a delicate balance between endeavour and connections. I'm all for networking for getting a job whether that's mentioning a name or through a friend of a friend."

Many might be dismissive of the idea that you occasionally need to network to get work, believing it is disingenuous and unnecessary in a meritocratic job market. But the defenders of networking argue that in societies where some people are able to take advantage of family contacts or other social advantages, networking is a conscious way to level the playing field.

Campbell argues not everyone has the same "social capital" when it comes to knowing the right people.

Tim Campbell's networking tips

  • Remember connecting is a mutual exchange
  • Ask and you shall receive
  • Know what you want when you choose to connect
  • Keep connections warm
  • Offer to be a problem solver to keep networks active

"This imbalance doesn't mean networking is a bad thing," adds Campbell. "We just have to make sure people have more access to networks. Social mobility relies on good networks."

Not all networking is good. You need to do it well, says Cliff Oswick, professor in organisation theory at Cass Business School.

Oswick believes networking often doesn't get positive results because it is carried out in an insincere, superficial and meaningless way with people who share no similarities whatsoever.

Of course, to the critics of networking that is exactly what it is. So what should we be doing instead?

"Authenticity is vital," says Oswick. "Ensure you are connecting with people you want to connect with rather than accumulating a long list of contacts that you have nothing in common with."

It's rather in the same vein that some people hoover up as many acquaintances as they possibly can on social networking sites in order to appear popular.

Start Quote

I can't really be bothered with networking. Talent always prevails in the long run”

End Quote Arthur Smith Comedian

So what networking skills can be taught?

Oswick thinks networking skills can be enhanced by theorising and adopting practices in a similar way that people are taught how to develop leadership qualities.

Davide Nicolini, professor of organisation studies at Warwick Business School, opts for a slightly different method.

"We look at networks as a way of making your business work at its best rather than techniques to make lots of friends. Although both approaches go together.

"Networking is the name of the game in surviving in most companies. It is an old practice that has been rejuvenated by the introduction of electronic media and has always been important in England hence the notion of an old boys' club in the first place."

But comedian Arthur Smith doesn't rate the power of networking, arguing that using your talent is the most important factor for success.

"Networking is for people who like having their picture taken, [and] going to parties. I can't really be bothered. Talent always prevails in the long run."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    I once worked in a company we were actively encouraged to 'network' to wine dine & visit 'clients' to get out & build up expense accounts of mega proportions etc. Bosses were especially good at rabid travel / hotel splurges. I disagreed with the approach, sat at my desk using targeted phone & email. My results were higher than others, my team prospered & didn't suffer cuts like some star 'netters'

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    "Networking" is for people with no original ideas of any worth.

    Did Einstein need "Networking" or Newton, or a host of other people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    So the old phrase of "its not what you know, but who you know" still stands true. Such a shame in a "meritocratic job market" ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Networking is really a new name for the old boy network, only now it includes lots of other people. In some instances it can be considered akin to insider trading and lots of other dodgy practices that go on in all industries and organisations. Networking at its best, is getting to know useful people, at its worst, it's insidious, dishonest and possibly even corrupting to all involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    The ones who network outside work are the same ones who invent reasons for meetings inside work, and waste so much time and money on nonsense. It's the Yes people, they don't know the business, have no clue what their job entails but will say yes to everything, then try and persuade others to do their work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    221.L A Odicean

    Funny when I was growing up that was known as bribery. When did the act of giving gifts for favours turn into "networking"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    From what I understand you pay to become a member of ay networking scheme / club made up of a mix of businesses then plug each other when you get the chance ... I like the old fashioned way of recomending a good lawyer/builder etc because for free because they have done a good job from past experience ... would you recomend a stranger to a client just because he pays to be a member of your club.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Hmmm, '... networking an essential business tool...'. Utter twaddle!

    I run a successful business and have done for many years. I have a wonderful loyal team. Why? Because I believe in truth, integrity and honour. To get on you should follow one simple principle; work hard and to the best of your ability.

    Didn't networking used to be called something to do with brown and nose?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    A trend, call it fashion - like so many before - that's what it is. We are in the /Generation Cyberdummy/ - who'd be surprised. What most people seem to forget is, that any such requires a sound economy. A million contacts ain't worth a penny without a market. Yuppies came - Yuppies went. Did it change anything? What makes anyone believe life to change - because of networking?

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Re 221 L A Odician Ime impressed with your sentiment and gifting but still feel you did it for You! Which you confirm in your contribution. Sadly some,NOT ME, in this day and age would suggest it was bribery.Tthe whole gratuity tips etc has become a political minefield for the people and allegedly a huge earner for lawyers! Good luck with your next M.O.T.!! Think Ile give networking a miss Eh!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    For sure, networking is what politicians and wanna be politicians do. Whether it's national politics or office politics, it's the same. Others, such as salespeople, can benefit too.

    However, I prefer my ever open circle of friends. We're in this together and I'll help if I can and my moral code allows it.

    My work is to make the world that I live in, better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Only today I dropped off a set of spanners (an unwanted Xmas present) at my local mechanic's. Giving people unexpected presents (and I could tell he wasn't expecting it), is a form of networking. I know for sure, that when my car goes in for its next MOT he's not going to rip me off - and I will recommend him to any friends who need their car to be MOT'd. That's how I got where I am today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Derek Trotter was good at networking - by no means a measure of his professional skills and product integrity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Re204 Nonnamei Ime sure many on here agree with that sentiment.I wonder how one suggests we change human nature, which appears to to be the cause of nepotism which is rarely fair,in reality and frequently displayed by the majority of us unintentionally in most cases A bit like life really rarely fair !

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Networking is a very useful social skill. It is hard work but it leads to me meeting other people with similar interests, provides me with new opportunities and life experiences I wouldn't otherwise have had. It is not just a business skill withsaying this it is a hugely useful in helping get jobs or work. Those who knock it have clearly not utilised networking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    I think perhaps it's because I work in not-for-profit (arts) rather than the commercial sector, but networking always seems to be quite a useful and friendly business to me. My colleagues and I can chat to people from other similar businesses and find ways to work together, rather than treading on each others toes. Its a great way to keep up with industry news/gossip.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Re189 Abdi How strange there was an uproar when TEBBIT suggested the same but on a bike rather than a computer, that very few had at the time! Now it appears to be vital to( quote) some of our consumer brainwashed younger generations.No,one as yet can prove its commercial worth in what seems the most important area.INCOME n MONEYat any price Eh I guess it works for some TYPES!

  • Comment number 215.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    It seems the more we allow business practices to infiltrate our lives, the less sincere, sensitive and altrustic we become. We end up focussing on material gains rather than emotional ones. Surely this cannot be a good thing?

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    I've been helping individuals and organisations "to build, nurture and leverage relationships (aka networking and/or investing in social capital) in order to maximise opportunities for themselves and others" (my definition) since 1996. To network effectively you need to build rapport, gain trust and add value. Pinging a "link with me" message via a social networking site doesn't always cut it!


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