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Why is networking a dirty word?

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The bottom of this post has a free giveaway. Read on!

Everybody hates the word networking. Once, at the dinner table in college, I surveyed 20 people who lived with me. I asked them what they thought of “networking,” and 19/20 said they had negative connotations. Networking is sleazy, they said.

You can’t argue with that. I hate when people say “Ramit, you’re a good networker” because it’s such a loaded word.

The thing is, I totally disagree with common perceptions of the word. Networking isn’t about going up to people and getting 5 million business cards. It’s not about having the biggest rolodex. I mock those people. It’s about having deep relationships and giving more to people than you expect back.

I could write a lot more about this–because the #1 reason for any success I’ve had has been the people around me–but I won’t. You know why?

Because someone already did it. And they did it much better than I could have.

There is a book called Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. This is the book I wish I’d written. It’s that good. And I’m giving away 2 signed copies (signed by the author, not me) to readers of IWillTeachYouToBeRich.

It’s easy to win. Just add a comment here and talk about

  • Your worst experience with “networking” (whatever you think it is), or
  • Your best experience with networking

I’ll pick 2 of the best entries and send you signed copies.

It’s the holiday time and I want to give stuff away. And this is one of my favorite books of all time.

The contest ends Thursday, so tell your story here.

Update: The winners have been announced.

And, if you want, sign up for Keith’s newsletter. It’s good.
Thanks to Ian for arranging these books.

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  1. Thank you for this opportunity, Ramit. I always enjoy reading your posts and applying many of the principles you are so passionate about.

    My networking began really, as an accident. I am originially from Little Rock, Arkansas, and have been a private jeweler for almost 20 years.

    Little Rock is a smalls city, only about 250,000 people. However, it is a city with many affluent people who love to attend fundraisers and society events. I am one of those who love to attend those as well. After attending five or six of these events, I began to realize I was seeing the same people at every event.

    As I began to engage people in conversation, as people always do, they would ask what I did for a living. This gave me an opportunity to of course, talk about my business. However, it also opened the door for me to find out what their profession was and follow up with them after the event.

    Eventually, nearly every affluent person in Little Rock was purchasing their jewelry from me – important peices! I also found that whatever jewelry firm I was working for, when someone asked another, “where in the world did you get that piece,” it wasn’t from XYZ jewelry store…they said, I got it from Mike Willingham.

    Another important lesson: affluent people prefer to shop where their affluent friends shop.

    This was an excellent exercise for me. Many times, I think we forget what has worked for us in the past.

    I look forward to reading the other post and gaining new insights.

    Thanks again for the opportunity. I almost purchased this book last week but, now I’ll just wait for you to send it to me.

  2. My best experience started as a neighbor queried me about helping him buy some computers. This led to me setting up everything electronic all around his house. Later he asked me if I’d be interested in working at the IT department of his law firm. The best part about this opportunity was not the job, but more networking, and mentoring. Every time I fixed a partner’s computer, they taught me a lesson: what to major in, where to go to school, where to work, what to learn, how to communicate. The initial network gave me references for schools and jobs, then I used lessons learned to interact with more people not with the intention of growing a network, but building a network of high quality, motivated people that were always smarter than I was.

    I no longer work at the firm, but I still get requests to do house calls for the partners I really connected with.

    Ultimately I was exposed to opinions, views, and personalities developed from higher institutions all over the country, and some from other countries too. Was it networking? It was more mentoring, but it began with networking, and if you’re not using networking to make money, you’re using it to grow.

  3. I’ve never had a truly bad networking experience. Usually, the worst that happens is: nothing happens. 🙂 So here’s my best:

    I’m a solo musician of the coffeeshop variety. On my way back from the South By Southwest music conference in Austin, I was standing alone in the airport waiting to board my plane, when a guy with blue hair standing nearby noticed my guitar case. “Did you play at the conference?” he asked. We started chatting about the different acts we’d seen, who was good, etc. It turned out this guy was a music promoter in my hometown. When he found out I had spoken on a panel, he asked if I knew who to talk to be considered as a panel speaker. I said I’d forward him some info when I got home.

    As I got off the plane, I realized I had forgotten to give him a CD of my own music, which is pretty standard music networking stuff. But after many years of attending conferences like SXSW, I was worn and tired of always cajoling people to listen and/or care. I figured the guy’s suitcase was already full of CDs from hopeful artists looking for a break, most of which he’d probably just chuck in the trash, so I let it slide.

    When I got home, I emailed blue hair guy a nice-meeting-you note, and the email address of one of the conference planners.

    A few weeks went by and suddenly I got an email from him. There was a major label artist coming through town. Did I want the opening slot?

    Weeks later I found myself playing in front of a packed house in one of the larger rock clubs in Seattle. I sold a ton of CDs and filled my mailing list with new people, some of which are still my biggest fans and supporters. Through those same people I found willing volunteers who hang posters for me and refer me to venues throughout the area.

    Almost two years later, I’m still benefitting from that single, one-line email. And I didn’t even give him a CD.

    But I don’t want this story to be about just what I got out of the deal. As a guy who’s usually pretty quiet and reserved offstage, the bigger lesson I took from this is a lot of successful networking comes from just being open and willing to share resources, and hook people up when the opportunity arises.

  4. My personal opinion is that it’s impossible for an individual to learn all that’s there to learn by experience. Especially for a young person, mentorship is an absolute must.

    Every single interaction of mine with either a business man or a scientist has been accompanied by lessons in life. Stuff that no textbook or school will teach you.

    Here’s one more secret. Well established business men/scientists are keen to help you out. Honestly, they are curious to know your approach to life, and let you know if you are making the same mistakes as they did.

    Do I call this networking ? I think of it as the same way as your parents helping you out with tuition.


  5. Not so much an experience as a viewpoint: The Sales Manager who hired me for my 1st job out of school always said, “Networking is only 1 letter away from being ‘Not-working'”.

    I did, and still do, disagree with this sentiment, but thought it was an interesting example of people’s preconceived notions and/or misinterpretation of a concept.


  6. I wouldn’t be where I am today wasn’t it for networking through the years. My wife says that it is hard for people to forget me. he following story is one of many that has blessed my life financially over the years. Three years ago I made friends with a co-worker at AOL. He left AOL but we kept our contact alive. One day he called me up, gave me a phone number to call. That phone call improved my financial fortunes for good and is the reason why I have a successful business today. The people I called needed an Arabic language trainer. I accepted the position and while working there I developed a method that allowed me to cut the time it takes to teach US soldiers that language from 70 weeks to 36 weeks with better results than the Navy is used to getting. That led me to writing a book that is a standard now among the military. Another contact I had started sending me translation work from several US agencies which tripled my income over the last three years. I designed another friends book cover and that friend in turn put my name in the acknowledgments to his book and that drove not only more business to me but also multiple opportunities for translation and book authoring.

    In a nutshell, I owe everything I have to God, my wife and then to networking. Without networking I would never be successful in business as I am today.

  7. The most interesting question (the header) was left unanswered: Why is it that people consider ‘networking’ a dirty word?

    Look at two extremes of people: the ones who are so naturally talented at networking that they don’t realize they are doing it, and the ones who are so introverted that they define any interaction with other people as networking.

    To the first group, there’s no conscious effort to network, so to them any activity called networking must be “posing” and have ulterior motives. To the introverts out there, talking to new people can be such an effort (rather than a joy) that the only way they can imagine doing it often is if there was some big payoff. Again it comes down to perceived ulterior motive. The same argument can be applied to much of the population between the two extremes.

    Of course there is an elusive third group who don’t have a natural ability to network, but do it through pure determination. They clearly do not consider networking dirty, but they also form a minority of the population (even if it’s a vocal one).

    To address the issues people have with networking being “dirty,” try to focus on the joy of meeting interesting people with interesting stories as being your reward. This reward should be enough for you to be excited about getting contact information and keeping in touch with people. If you happen to profit economically later on, consider it a bonus and nothing more. If you believe it, the people around you will see your genuine nature, and you will be rewarded with great relationships. If you don’t believe it, don’t try, because people can tell when you’re not being true to them or yourself.

  8. My worst networking experience?

    Easily, it was an Art Director’s Club meeting.

    These meetings are full of creative types (of which I am one). They range from college students to local veterans. I was very tired of the superficial chit-chat that most of the younger creatives engaged in, so I opted to sit at a table with some industry veterans instead (a photographer and creative director). I was hoping that they would share more mature insights and discuss more meaningful subject matter.

    Wrong on both accounts.

    Once we broke the ice, the two men in their mid-forties engaged in an exclusive conversation between themselves. They quickly devolved into a sexually graphic discussion that still causes me to shudder. The content was so pornographic that I didn’t even know the terminology they used. Seeing my “deer in the headlights” expression, they went on to explain some of the terms (much to my chagrin). I’m sure my face had turned 5 shades of red by this point.

    I soon excused myself and escaped back to the mindless (but safe) drivel of my peers.

    Years later, I now realize that this conversation was likely intended to scare me off so they could continue their exclusive discussions. Apparently I was not truly welcome at their table.

  9. Worst networking experience? Standing next to my bf while he’s networking.

    He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s destined for a life of politics. He runs a non-profit with several high-profile local business and political ties. He’s got that irrestistible that small-town boy charm that everyone naturally falls in love with.

    So, standing next to him means that I have to say neutral, boring things for hours on end that are calculated to make him look good and give people the fake smile while volunteering to do dumb things I don’t believe in . . . like flirting with old guys so they’ll buy raffle tickets.

    I wonder what kind of drugs they give Laura Bush. I want some.

  10. My best experience “networking” was on a job interview in Westlake Village, CA. I flew in early, and stopped at a local grocery store to pickup a couple of things prior to checking into a hotel.

    A lady backed into my rental car, but did very little damage (maybe a scuffed bumper.) After taking a quick look at both cars, I told her not to worry about it, it really wasn’t a problem. She continued to appologize, then took off.

    Later that evening, my prospective new boss had invited me to dinner at his house. Imagine my surprise when he introduced me to his wife, who turned out to be the same woman from the shopping center. Dinner was quite pleasant, and nothing was said about a prior “meeting.”

    When my interviewer phoned with an employment offer several days later, he said that his wife had remarked several times about what a “nice young man” I was, later that evening.

    Moral? Networking is all the time, not just when you think you should turn it on.