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Reaching out

How many times have you been told that the key to getting ahead in your career is networking?

And how many times has that struck you as something at least slightly unethical, if not downright exploitive? The truth is, sometimes it can be just that.

The key differentiator here is whether you focus on relationships or transactions. Relationships come from an intention of giving rather than taking, of caring enough about the other person to invest yourself in getting to know who they are and how you might be able to help them. Transactions come from a mindset of what’s in it for me, how can this person help me achieve my goals, what “transaction” can I achieve through this person, preferably as quickly as possible?

The really good news is that the LIS profession seems to be overflowing with the former type of networker – people who genuinely care about the well-being of the profession and its members as much as they do their careers. We easily share information, support each other, and seek out ways to help one another.

Which is why it can be so uncomfortable to be “networked” by a person who’s more of a transactional type. Once you’re paying attention, the difference is easy to see. For example:

They’re interested in what you can do for them, rather than who you are. Do they evince a genuine interest in you and take the time to learn about what’s important to you, or do they just pretty quickly move into what they’d like you to do for them? Although in some professions and some circumstances this behavior may be the norm, it definitely isn’t in the LIS profession – for which we can all be grateful.

They’ll tell you all about themselves, making it clear what a “high-value” contact they’ll be. This is part of the “establishing credentials” protocol – letting you know how important they are and what a desirable connection they’ll be – hey, are you lucky to have met them or what??? The obvious message is that that connection will be focused on transactions – doing favors or introductions or deals – rather than on taking the time to build a relationship that will broaden and deepen over the years.

They’re experts at networking triage. In the same way that salespeople are taught to “qualify the buyer,” transactional networkers will quickly size you up as to how valuable a contact you can be. Who do you know, and how valuable might those contacts be (otherwise known as “the network of your network”)? If you can’t help them reach their goals, you’ll be unlikely to hear from them again (an outcome for which you can be eternally thankful).

The bottom line for building a valuable, sustainable, and richly rewarding professional network is to go for quality rather than quantity, look for opportunities to help others, and genuinely care about the success and well-being of those in your network. This is the type of networking you can feel proud of, that reflects your best intentions and values. Bottom line: it’s about building connections of genuine, sustainable value rather than ones with an immediate what’s-in-it-for-me payoff. This is the kind of networking even an LIS professional can feel good about.