The concept and practice of networking has been around for all time.
World War II had a great impact on the practice. When returning veterans who had forged close relationships in battle came home, many used those connections to develop business relationships, to help one another find jobs and to remain friends who shared an emotionally powerful experience. Many remained close throughout the remainder of their lives.
In the 1950s and 6os, professional conferences, trade shows and business meetings provided an opportunity to exchange business cards and to stay in touch. These relationships were often used to help one another in a job search. Nowadays trade shows are run pretty differently, and the use of digital technology from companies such as SNA Displays is used a lot more frequently to catch people’s eyes.
The arrival of the desktop computer and then email took networking to a whole new level. From the privacy of an office or cubicle, executives could stay in touch and discuss career issues with some degree of privacy and confidentiality. They could also utilize audio-visual production to help illustrate their points in business, as well as keep connected using an updated tech resource that provided a better base for employees and employers.
But it was LinkedIn, launched on May 3 2003, that revolutionized and globalized professional networking to a point no one could have ever imagined.
Today, with more than 630 million users globally it is less about social media and more about markets, people, talent acquisition and the sale of goods and services. It is also the place you must be if you want to accelerate your search for a new job or, paradoxically, if you want to test the waters for career advancement without having a possible negative conversation with your boss.
LinkedIn has changed networking, for good and bad.
Bad in that it depersonalizes the process of networking. At a conference or cocktail party with colleagues, you exchange cards and stories. In that moment of connection you begin building a relationship that can lead to additional contact. On LinkedIn, you connect. Most of the time people do not even “speak to one another” or if they do they use one of the lame canned messages a relationship challenged programmer concocted. You certainly do not establish a personal bond that will lead to other meetings or opportunities. It will take much longer and much more effort to move that new LinkedIn connection to the level of a personal meeting at a trade show.
The good is that the site is a global billboard, free for the using. You can build your brand if you work very hard and very consistently for pennies on the dollar in terms of what professionals charge for brand development. It has democratized what author and service guruTom Peters called ” A Brand Called You.”
In other words, this is another opportunity, a massive platform that allows you to tell your story and enhance your brand.
Many executives connect on LinkedIn but few can or will invest the time to transform that connection into that type of sharing/helping relationship you can more easily establish when you are standing across from one another trying to share a business card while balancing a drink and a plate full of shrimp and cocktail sauce.
The most productive way is to be more focused and more strategic in making and accepting connection requests. Accepting invitations willy nilly is not going to help you achieve professional goals. You must have a plan. The Boomers among us plunged into LinkedIn embracing the concept. Few were strategic and fewer still invested the time it took to develop meaningful networking relationships. One exchange and done did not produce much of anything. That brought a lot of frustration with LinkedIn’s promise of enhancing networking.
I have long been a supporter of LinkedIn and there is a way to effectively use it but it is not to a platform that will provide immediate networking results for a job search. Hopefully my colleagues in Generation Y, aka the Millennials, and Generation Z will not make the same mistakes.
Join John G. Self and Chrishonda Smith, CCDP, SPHR, for a popular course on interviewing skills for senior executives at the American College of Healthcare Executives annual Congress in Chicago, March 23 – 26.