Networking can conjure up images of making smart connections that lead to career success or pictures of shameless, aggressive glad-handing that makes some people squirm. Those are just two views we received from more than 200 Monster members who emailed us in response to our question: Is networking a career must or overrated? Their stories show that the answer isn't one or the other. They express everything from pure puzzlement about why networking is considered important to high praise for the doors it can open. But two overarching themes appear: How you network is just as important as whether you network and networking is more important in some fields than others. Look over this sample of 10 Monster members' thoughts on the subject, and see how you can apply their wisdom to your own career. A Fact of Life Networking is a fact, a reality, even for the most isolated worker/seeker. If you see anything besides your reflection, if you link to anyone for aid, you are networking. Anonymous resumes and job screeners use filters to identify people and to explore what you can do for each other. When mutual interests are involved, it is a network, and it is not a one-way deal. I think most everyone helps others to feel better about their future and to make connections that work. Life is widened for everyone. Some people express goodwill in return, and other times they are too enmeshed in their circumstances to reciprocate, but that's life. A Way to Build a Career Outside Corporate America When I finished my master's degree at age 54, I knew I wasn't material for the corporate environment, because the stress would most likely exacerbate my lupus. I decided I would use my degrees in English to develop a freelance/contract career in editing and writing. Until recently, the only method of advertising I used was networking. I gave everyone I could think of my business cards, even strangers whom I thought might remotely be interested in an editor or a writer. I gave my business cards to several department secretaries at the university where I graduated, asking them to pass them on to business students -- people who might inquire about an editor. Amazingly, I've been able to cultivate an adequate amount of work solely through networking that has supported me for the past nine years. Effectiveness Depends on Circumstances and Location Networking is always a good thing, but I think the word networking is overused. We all make professional acquaintances during our careers; it's whether we are able to use them to our advantage during a job search. Unfortunately, most of the people you know don't know much about your work ethic or true KSAs (knowledge, skills and abilities), because they don't work with you on a daily basis. In my job search, I can cite only two hires that actually came from my network, and I know A LOT of people in various industries. I think it depends on your location, too. Some towns/cities are more difficult than others, because they are overpopulated with professionals like you, and they aren't going anywhere anytime soon. My suggestion is to network outside your comfort zone as well as with like-minded colleagues to broaden your choices in case that dreaded job search happens to you. And always keep your resume current! An Unfair Advantage? I do not believe that networking is overrated. However, I strongly believe too much emphasis is placed on networking, putting people who do not have the strings to pull them through at a serious disadvantage. When a prospective employee is referred, employers tend to feel more assured they are hiring someone who is competent and this judgment is based on the referrer's credibility. What employers are striving to do is retain workers, reduce a high turnover rate and increase productivity. However, I believe even when people are not referred by someone else, they too should be given a fair fighting chance. From my perspective, networking could lead to someone being hired because of who they know and not what they know, which leads to unqualified and undereducated people getting great jobs by wiping the right person's nose. Not a Cure-All Networking is powerful, BUT only if you've preceded it with hard work, careful planning, integrity and in a fair and comfortable manner. Networking is most successful used in conjunction with a good reputation. Know Your Network Networking is a successful and beneficial endeavor, depending primarily on where you live within the US. It depends on the atmosphere and mentality of the people with whom you must relate. Acceptance is crucial. Who are those by whom you wish to be accepted? What do you want? What will you present? What do you hope will be the result? Can you be yourself and still be assisted by others? Those are questions as diverse and complicated as people are. Your hopes, your dreams and aspirations cannot be shared with everyone, every time. Some dreams are deep, some dreams are somber, many dreams are hopeful, and even more are expansive. What you share and what you retain hinges on whether someone will help you along the way or stop you at every entrance. The Role of Gender The most difficult part of networking has been the male/female thing. I have encountered several roadblocks, including "the ol' boys club," the gentleman who thinks networking is foreplay, and the women who are engaged in an affair with the boss and think you are a threat. I entered an all-male industry 25 years ago, and it took a few interactions before the men started to trust my counsel and starting calling me first when they were stuck. I gained their respect, but they never stopped making advances. I can think of only one woman over the course of my career [who was] in a higher position and who I respect and was not involved sexually with the company president. Both a Must and Overrated It's a career must, because you need to keep a network of people active so you can hear of job openings. On the other hand, it's overrated, because sometimes the networking itself can be completely phony. The basic trick is to network without appearing that you are networking. In other words, be genuine! Your network must include people you communicate with (email, snail mail, telephone, other) on a regular basis (and the frequency is up to you). Networking just to network is phony, and that's when it's overrated. No Help Networking? Maybe I never figured out how to do it well, but it didn't help me at all. My connections just gave me names of others in management whom I didn't know. Few of them ever responded to my inquiries, and those who did respond really weren't of any significant help. I landed my current position by responding to an advertisement in the newspaper. The old-fashioned way worked for me. Next time I'm looking, I'll need to improve my networking skills, I guess! Start networking today. Connect with over 280,000 veterans willing to help you in your career.
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