Yes, It's Possible To "Network" Without Being A Scumbag

But it's not always easy. Here's how to pimp your career, without looking like a punk.

No matter how meaningful your work is, if you don't have the bosses or clients that can enable you to measure the value you create, you hamper your ability to evolve your career.

Your network, as they say, is your net worth. Connections, as we know, create value.

So why does the word "networking" feel so careerist and reptilian and gross?

In Antifragile, the eminently contrarian Nassim Taleb contrasts networker with social person. The assumption hidden within "networker" and "networking," it seems, is a question of so what can you do for me? while being a social person—and, over time, growing a professional network feels if not altruistic, is then, at least, mammalian.

So how do you grow your herd of gregarious gazelles, your pride of helpful lions, your pod of evil genius orcas? Lifehacker, naturally, has some non-sleazy ideas.

"Building your network isn't actually a big deal... and it's not that hard to do," writes Alan Henry. "All you're really doing is making new friends and staying in touch with old ones, both at and around work."

The first key, then, is to make friends with the people that you work with. Echoing John A. Daly, who literally wrote the book on Advocacy, Henry emphasizes that you need to make bonds with the people you work with: When your coworkers ask you to go to lunch, go—even if the socializing makes you a touch uncomfortable, the relationships you form will be crucial down the line.

Another essential practice is to be in the places where people meet each other: Henry recommends getting involved in professional organizations or societies and attend their events—one easy way is to page through Eventbrite or Meetup for events that look awesome—awesome people will be assuredly be there.

Of course, it's unbecoming to always be asking: Henry says to give help when you can. This is a careery theme that's come up again and again: in his Berkeley commencement speech, DJ Patil recommended that you "seek out those who will take a risk on you" and to take a risk on others; Cap Watkins, the design lead at Etsy, wrote of how someone taking a cup of coffee with him changed his life—and how he now pays that kindness forward. And as Frans Johansson expertly argued, at the center of every success story is a fortuitous meeting—and you can help create that fortune for others.

Then, after you've formed that bond—and perhaps moved on from that organization—keep up the bandwith of that connection. For this, Henry has two rules:

  1. Be Genuine.
  2. Stay in touch.

It's not, he says, that you're simply "building a network"; instead, you're building a group of friends that you care about. It might start as "networking," but it should finish with people "you'd invite to a dinner party or have at your wedding." Which is to say that in networking, as in life, you'd do well to operate with graciousness.

How to Skip the Sleaze and Build a Real Professional Network

[Image: Flickr user Kevin Walsh]

Add New Comment


  • Paul

    Great article by the way. I have a personal interest because I often come across people who are sleazy and with no apparent social skills but with billions of connections. I have progressively filtered such people out of my networking lists, particularly those who are ONLY interested in what you can do for them. They'll ignore you until they need your help. Then they have the audacity of acting like you're best buddies. They won't even be honest and ask if you know any companies that are hiring. They'll try and fluff up their message to sound like their unemployment is a part of some master strategy that they're currently employing, and lucky old you is getting the opportunity to be part of this. 

    Networking should be about helping each other out and having an interest in people not just ones own career. Also the willingness to help others even if there's little chance they'll be able to help you back. There are way too many people whose interest in networking is purely one-way, and with only their own interests in mind.

  • Sharon

    What a great article, loved the "why does the word "networking" feel so careerist and reptilian and gross?" - LOL!  At last, someone being real about how the word "networking" smacks of shameless opportunism, but with honest suggestions on how to overcome the pimp in all of us, heh. :)  

  • Lexie Forman Ortiz

    Porter Gale emphasizes that if you haven't started to build and utilize your network, NOW is the time. And you're right! There's an "unscumbag" way to do it! 

    For live advice from Porter Gale, and a few of the CEOs in the book join us June 14th at SmartRecruiters' HQ in San Francisco!