Networking 101 – Why It Should Be Required Learning, Particularly for Communicators

networkIn today’s world of technology, ignorance is a choice. We have so much knowledge and information at our fingertips. News and analysis about the world around us are just clicks away. So too our potential contacts that can help us in our career interests. I want to share some thoughts about this latter area.

The reality is that anyone with access to a library internet connection can research their different career paths, explore their wildest professional goals and develop their gigs. Anyone can follow the right individuals and brands that are of professional interest and learn about the latest industry insights. Regardless of income or background, anyone with access to an internet connection can join groups to listen and learn. We can then reach out to different individuals with questions and thoughts. Yet far too often – in a time in which jobs are not being filled because of a supposed skills gap – individuals are withering away by accessing junk and gossip online.

In recent months, as I have thought about my future career goals, I have been amazed at the means I have to reach out and connect to other individuals who are in a position I hope to be at one day. This is basic networking, and I don’t think we teach it very well in our schools at various levels.

I see networking as a basic communications skill: the ability to connect and engage with a targeted individual or group. Generally we associate communications with writing, presenting, interpersonal communication and broadcasting. Rarely do we think of communications in terms of networking.

For example, as a communications major in college, I never took a course on “networking” back in the late 90s. I checked the curriculum roster of some other universities in the North Carolina area to see if times have changed, but still didn’t see course requirements for communications and networking, or something to that effect. Of course other traditional communications classes – writing and presenting and the like – were mandatory classes. There were also those really “practical” courses like “Introduction to Performance Ethnography” (note sarcasm). Here’s an example of the types of communications classes at the University of North Carolina. Google “college courses on networking” and the predominant links relate to networks as they apply to IT.

I think that I could make the argument that in today’s world, the ability to network effectively is more important than any other communications skill. Encompassed in networking are presenting, relating to individuals and most importantly researching and finding different opportunities. With technology, these networking opportunities are borderless in terms of geography and industry.

Perhaps we don’t emphasize networking as a required skill because it still has negative connotations. The most obvious negative word association with networking is “schmoozer” or “slick”. defines networking as a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest. To summarize this in one word, it’s collaboration. Remove the negative connotation of networking as schmoozing and replace it with collaboration and we can better appreciate just how important networking is for job seekers, current employees and the economy at large. It can apply to any person, regardless of rank, industry, profession or background.

Research from the Altimeter Group released earlier this month notes that companies need to prepare for the “Collaborative Economy”. Century for 21st Century Skills notes the importance of educating students around the four Cs: critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. Here is a video clip of Apple CEO Tim Cook talking about collaboration. These are just a few examples noting the importance of collaboration. It is therefore imperative in my opinion that curricula prominently feature collaboration / networking courses at all different levels.

I recently had the opportunity to teach communications courses at Aidan College, an international gap year school in Lavey, Switzerland. One course was called “Communications Along the Career Path”. I worked with these students who range from age 18-24 on how they can develop this skill. Among the areas we delved into were:

  1. Understanding and testing your personal brand
  2. Conducting informational interviews
  3. Seeking out mentors
  4. Leveraging online learning resources
  5. Communicating and observing through volunteering and internships

It was very enjoyable getting the students’ feedback on this and sharing my thoughts in detail about these specific areas. Whether young adults, established professionals or future career changers, I believe we can all do better in this area. Let’s take advantage of the resources at our disposal and network – or should I say collaborate and communicate – with someone new this week.