Networking is overrated. Building relationships is what matters.
One of the things that people who know me well would agree upon is that I have a very strong network. What I mean by a strong network is a group of people from diverse industries and roles (from entrepreneurs and CEOs – to content creators and artists, and everything in between) with whom I have built relationships over the last 10 years. The reason I emphasis “building relationships” is that I don’t believe that the standard way of networking with people (by meeting them once or twice at events, and interacting with them from time to time on social media) makes them part of your network. Yes, you might know someone, but that does not mean you have built a relationships with them.
The way you start building relationships is by either studying together (e.g. in school and other educational programs, such as Aspire Academy*) or by working with them on projects (e.g. volunteering, being co-workers, starting business partnerships, etc.). There is also a third way which is through social interactions but this is less relevant in the professional context and in many cases is driven by factors that you can’t control (childhood friends, family connections, etc.). What’s key to understand here is that even if you did not grow up in a family/environment with “connections” or you did not attend a top league school, you can still build a great network through quality relationships.
I’ll share a few “secrets” about building quality relationships:
- Building relationships takes time. It’s a long-term game which is what many people don’t (want to) understand. “Networkers” try to meet as many people as possible (there are hundreds of opportunities and events to do so) and then reach out to these newly formed acquaintances when they need something. The better alternative is to figure out how you can be of help to others, to build mutual trust by investing your time and energy in the relationship, and to genuinely care about them. You can’t do these things overnight.
- The earlier in one’s career you start developing the relationship, the stronger it can become. This is both related to the timing element that I mentioned above, but it’s also because people remember and appreciate when someone believed in them early on. I will always be grateful to people who were nice to me, who offered their time and helped me before I ended up in decision-making positions.
- The closer your values are, the stronger the foundation of the relationship will be. Once you know your values well, you can use them as a filter to build quality relationships. Of course your professional network won’t be comprised only of people with similar values, but at least you’ll have a good framework to decide with whom you want to spend more time. Many of my professional connections are people that I respect and admire outside their work, and with whom I enjoy spending social time as well.
There are of course many other pieces of advice on how to build quality relationships, but I’ll end for now by saying that prioritising genuine and quality interactions as opposed to the classical networking approach will bring higher personal and professional returns on the long term.
*I wrote this post inspired by my experience with Aspire Academy, a leadership program with professors from Harvard and Stanford. I had the opportunity to attend the first edition 9 years ago, and have been involved in different roles with the organisation ever since. Aspire played the biggest role in helping me build quality relationships over time, therefore I highly recommend it to everyone. Applications for the 10th edition are now open, so if you are a high-school student, a college student, or a young professional looking to build relationships with great people apply here: https://www.aspireacademy.ro/programs/