Have you made a resolution to expand and improve your personal network? Be careful: Online networking alone won’t be enough, experts say. While the Web has made networking easier, CIOs now run the risk of networking via computer too much¿—and of networking only with people who also stay behind their computers. “If you’re not careful, you tend to network too much with people just like you,” says Ivan Misner, networking guru and author of Truth or Delusion, Busting Networking’s ¿Biggest Myths.
The best networks are diverse: If your network includes not only CIOs but also people from different fields, backgrounds, experience and cultures, you will meet people who can link you into other groups, Misner says. Then you are speaking with people you would not have met otherwise and gaining access to opportunities you wouldn’t have known about. People are increasingly turning to the Internet to build new relationships. The LinkedIn social networking site alone hosts more than 9 million professionals. “One of the key benefits to online networking is keeping track of people who are important to me,” says David Guzm¿ former CIO of Owens & Minor, a medical supplies distributor. “Online communication is a fantastic supplement.”
Supplement is the key word. Online networks don’t replace face-to-face networking, even if you’re uncomfortable, Misner says.
While expanding your circle, don’t ignore networking within your company, either, Guzm¿says: Smart companies will increasingly strive to connect in-house employees, he believes. The lowdown on other common networking misconceptions:
You have to be a people person to be great at networking. Wrong. Extroverts often have a hard time listening, Misner says. “Great networkers have two ears and one mouth and use them both proportionately,” he says.
Networking groups are full of young professionals. In fact, only 10 percent of networking group (real-world groups, not online ones) participants were 29 or younger, according to a recent St. Thomas University study of networking group members.
It’s who you know. Actually, it’s how well you know them. “When someone gives a referral, they give a little bit of their reputation away,” Misner says. Don’t give referrals casually. And build credibility with anyone who could give you a referral.
Some people are “naturals” at networking. That doesn’t mean that you can’t learn how to network, or that people to whom networking comes easily can’t improve. To practice, get visible and involved in many groups, he advises, and try to create “contact spheres” in businesses that are symbiotic but noncompetitive. (If you are in the travel industry, you might want to meet people in the restaurant industry.)