What does it mean to “network”?
Networking is a crucial aspect of professional development. On a business school campus, it is not uncommon to hear success stories of students landing jobs or internships as a result of their “network.” Whether you are at a networking event or a job fair, networking works best when the objective is not to use another person as a means to your professional end but to instead focus on making high-quality connections.
A misconception about networking that persists today is that networking is a game of competition. The issue with this approach to networking is that it distracts from what ought to be the true objective of networking—connecting with another person by authentically expressing yourself, your ideas, and your values. There is a lot of pressure on students to conform to the prototypical version of a successful business student (confident, outgoing, and extroverted). Some may have the idea that in order to network they must compromise what is comfortable or natural to them as they attempt to fit this mold.
When you compromise some part of who you are in order to get a job you are making an enormous sacrifice. This should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, this happens more often than we think. Consciously or not, the environment of typical networking events encourages individuals to do exactly this. The underlying message is that in order to fit in you must be talkative, enthusiastic, and confident.
The quality of a network is not defined by size, titles, status, or wealth. Instead, the quality of a network should be defined by whether or not you are connected by sharing an authentic version of yourself. We should strive to re-invent the way that we think about networking as we take a holistic approach to understanding, accepting, and rewarding people for their unique inclinations, skills, and personality traits. Any system that does not encourage people to express the wholeness of who they are is one that is losing out on creativity and productivity.