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Do you need to schmooze to get ahead?

June 28, 2012

Networking, as “the action or process of making use of people for the exchange of information or for professional or other advantage”, first came into common parlance in the 1970s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. But is it important?

The BBC online magazine  published an article arguing whether networking is a skill we need to improve and enhance our business and career prospects.

It has led to an interesting discussion.

We all have different views on networking; there are those that can ‘work’ a room, pinpointing who to talk to for a great business contact, striking up a conversation in a busy room with strangers and making the contacts necessary to get ahead.

Others struggle with the notion of conversing with strangers, when ultimately everyone is there to get ahead in business and achieve something rather than for polite small talk and making new friends.

However we perceive networking, there is no doubt about it that in today’s world of business it is necessary.

Social media is great, but face to face networking is the skill that is emerging on top. With the new introduction of Julia Hobsbawm as the “world’s first visiting professor in networking” at London’s Cass Business School, networking is gaining its worth as a relevant business skill.

Hobsbawm believes networking should be a core skill, like driving or computer literacy.

“In a time of recession, people need their soft skills honed every bit as sharp as their hard skills. Networking is poised to become the most valuable soft skill on a CV,” Hobsbawm says.

However social media is not to be left behind, Hobsbawm argues it is just as important.

“Face-to-face contact is much more important in the ‘Facebook age’ because technology can create isolation despite its many benefits,” argues Hobsbawm.

“Trust is the biggest single asset a person can have and face-to-face contact provides this better than any other form of engagement. But everyone needs to be connected on social media too. The more blended your information sources, the better.”

Young people arguably are extremely up to date with networking through technology but more traditional face-to-face networking is something they lack, due to the digital era we live in.

Apprentice winner Tim Campbell, who was recently awarded an MBE for his services to enterprise culture, believes that networking as a skill is lacking in young people because it is not presented in a positive light let alone as a skill that should be learnt.

“Networking is definitely a skill that can be learnt but it is seen as a bit of a dirty word. Americans see it as an essential part of business thanks to sororities and fraternities at universities where life-long links are made. That’s an alien concept for most people that come out of our education system.”

Cliff Oswick, professor in organisation theory at Cass Business School argues that networking can only be successful if done well.

Oswick believes networking often doesn’t get positive results because it is carried out in an insincere, superficial and meaningless way with people who share no similarities whatsoever.

Of course, to the critics of networking that is exactly what it is. So what should we be doing instead?

“Authenticity is vital,” says Oswick. “Ensure you are connecting with people you want to connect with rather than accumulating a long list of contacts that you have nothing in common with.”

So what networking skills can be taught?

Davide Nicolini, professor of organisation studies at Warwick Business School, opts for a slightly different method.

“We look at networks as a way of making your business work at its best rather than techniques to make lots of friends. Although both approaches go together.

“Networking is the name of the game in surviving in most companies. It is an old practice that has been rejuvenated by the introduction of electronic media and has always been important in England hence the notion of an old boys’ club in the first place.”

But comedian Arthur Smith doesn’t rate the power of networking, arguing that using your talent is the most important factor for success.

“Networking is for people who like having their picture taken, [and] going to parties. I can’t really be bothered. Talent always prevails in the long run.”

What do you think? Test out your networking skills at our next networking events in Exeter, Bristol 

  1. Great Article, thanks for sharing this Sean. I would have to agree that you can’t beat face-to -face meetings which comes from a result of building great relationships during networking as the basis of a solid 21st century sales model. It is even more important now than ever to make yourself noticed amongst all the noise of social media. Great rapport- A willingness to help others get what they want – and a desire to serve others go a long way in this day and age.

    • Hello Lorraine

      Thank you for your comments – your 21st Century sales model sounds interesting – how does this compare with a 20th Century model – dare I say 19th Century or was the days of snake oil!

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