Networking is important. Of course it is. Who you know is always important. But it’s not more important than what you know- and your wasta, guanxi, or your connections won’t get you (or keep you) where you want to be, unless they are very good indeed (and you’re not dreadful).
So, networking is more than being about who you know- it’s what those people think of you. It’s whether those people think of you at all. And just getting someone’s business card, having them on your email list, or seeing them as a connection on LinkedIn is not successful networking.
Successful networking is when you care about people and they care about you. It’s about thinking of the other person as a person first and foremost, and then, much later if at all, seeing if they can help you.
If you’re like most people in the world, you get a lot of requests for connections on LinkedIn. You probably also meet a lot of people. And you know most of them aren’t that interested in you. You can tell. Here are some signs:
1. They don’t take the time to personalize the usual “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” request, which would have taken perhaps only 30 seconds of their time to remind you of how you know them, or why you should “link” with them.
2. They see you as a contact, a follower, or simply an entry in their database, and they communicate with you exclusively in this way.
3. They only get in touch when they need help.
None of these things make them bad people- it just means that they’re not that into you. And when you realize that, you have to ask yourself why. Maybe it’s because you’re not that into them? Maybe you don’t help them understand how you can help them, and why they should see you as a person? Maybe you don’t treat them like a person either?
You’ll probably be amazed to hear that I respond to every single person who contacts me. This is because I’ve adopted a Google-like motto of “Don’t be obnoxious.” And this, for me, means treating people like people- they aren’t a business card, they aren’t just “contacts", they are human beings. Some of them are great, and some suck, and some are more important than you, and some are just starting out. Some are just plain weird. But at least at the beginning (and until they become weird), they all deserve your respect, so treat people like people.
Or, to put it another way, treat them with some respect. And then, expect some respect in return. If you don’t get that, then walk away.