I just started sharing quick networking tips on Tout, and it's made me think a lot about networking.
I've realized that while there's always a lot of tips and ideas that can help you figure out who to network with and how to make that first approach, in the end it all boils down to two simple things:
1. Word Hard
2. Make Friends
The end. :)
Okay I'll explain a bit, though I'm sure you already see where this is going.
Note: When I talk about networking, I'm not talking about the sleazy kind of using-people to get ahead kind of thing, because, really, that doesn't work. I'm talking about the most powerful kind of networking, the kind that moves people up ladders and towards their dreams through a mutually beneficial community.
Before you start to think about networking, you'll first want to develop a strong work ethic. You don't have to know what you want to do with your life, but you do absolutely have to work hard at whatever it is you are doing. People with a strong work ethic are constantly growing, and thus have something to offer about when they meet new people.
As your career blossoms, as it does for hard-working people, you will eventually be able to help your network too. But in the meantime, being a hard-worker gives you something meaningful to talk about; you're able to share your mutual love of wanting to make a difference in the world.
To develop your work ethic, read books like The Compound Effect, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Outliers. Also there's this pretty cool book to help you achieve and network in college, written by the coolest author ever... ;)
People hire their friends -- from the President of the United States to the president of a club. And while many times it can feel unfair, it is something that will never change. The key word, though, is friends. People don't hire the sleezy people who just try to use them. And they don't hire acquaintances.
They are hiring and helping friends. Real friends. Ask anyone who has a large powerful network and they'll be able to tell you personal details about each person - stuff outside of work. They'll know about their kids, their hobbies, their personalities, their favorite weekend activities, their favorite sports teams, etc. Do you know those things about the people in your network? Make no mistake, it takes a lot of effort and selflessness to develop these kinds of rich relationships, but it is well worth it.
My two favorite books that really focus on the friendship of networking is How to Win Friends and Influence People and The Little Black Book of Connections.
I think we often over-think networking. In the end, it's as simple as kindergarten. Get to know people. Enjoy people. Have fun. Be yourself. You'll know you have it right when you forget the word networking all together and realize you just have a lot of great friends.