How to Love Networking (Even If You Hate the Word)

The word “networking” sometimes gets a bad rap – all those connotations of speed dating-style awkwardness, business card collecting and name tags at stuffy functions.

Instead, let’s call networking what it should be: relationship building.  And nothing – nothing! – in your career will be more important than this.

Years ago, relationship management revolved around the Rolodex, a revered device that represented the cornerstone of most people’s professional success. “I’ll take my Rolodex with me!” was the rallying cry of anyone who left their job – whether by choice or not. Missing my old-fashioned Rolodex terribly, I was ecstatic to find an emoji Rolodex in the latest iOs:  ???? .

No matter what stage of your career you’re in, the relationships in your Rolodex – virtual or physical – will provide a roadmap to your future success. There is no more important career advice at any stage of your professional life than to keep building authentic connections. Here’s why.

1. People will resurface in surprising ways.

People I met in my 20s have come back and hired me down the road. Vendors I met at trade shows have shuffled companies and eventually partnered with me on projects. Former magazine editors are now PR execs. These days, people don’t stay in one job at one organization forever. We move around. It’s important to remember that the people you meet now may reappear in different roles in a few years.

2. Those in the early stage of their careers will rise, as will you.

Millennials, look around your office. The fellow account coordinators you go to happy hour with will also move up the ladder – and become clients or colleagues. Your intern may someday be your manager. Your grad school buddies might invest in your entrepreneurial venture. You are literally surrounded by future customers, bosses and fellow board members. And, in my experience at least, sometimes the people I least expected to rise up the ranks are now on the highest rungs of success.

3. Connections keep life fascinating.

I remember hearing an old story about a Hollywood mogul who would flip through his Rolodex each day, randomly extricate a card and call that person. I love that idea of keeping connections fresh by reaching out unexpectedly. Nowadays, technology allows us to keep in touch so effortlessly, and yet we rarely make that minimal effort. Why not take a “flip” through your LinkedIn connections or iPhone contact list and reach out to someone each day? Whomever you settle on, congratulate them on where they are now or share a funny story or a past memory. You will make someone’s day and might spark a new opportunity.

Relationships are what make life and business meaningful. As we approach the holiday season and its focus on emphasizing what matters, it’s the perfect time to skip the sometimes self-serving frenzy of “networking,” and make an effort to genuinely reconnect with former colleagues, classmates and clients to rekindle your favorite relationships.

Up for a challenge? This holiday season, reach out to one old contact each day. It will only take a few minutes, but the great feeling will last all day. I’d love to hear how your networking experiment goes share your stories in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, and the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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