I was chatting with a colleague of mine who shuddered at the term "networking." He had a PhD, an academic postdoc abroad for several years, and had found a research associate job back at his alma mater university. I was on my way to give a career seminar to speak about the importance of networking, among other topics. Talk about contrasts.
From his perspective, he thought that the CV, cover letter, publications, and interview should be the only items needed for a job application. Networking? He thought the whole concept was a personality contest, a social medium invented by people to "act nice" to the right people to obtain a job. This is an opinion that some people may have, particular those who were never given classroom instruction about networking. They usually go straight by the book, nothing too out of the ordinary, usually not likely to start their own company based on a passion and a network of qualified colleagues.
How was I to explain to this colleague the whole concept of LinkedIn? The concept of finding a potential partner, mentor, corporate sponsor or organization through a network which could change or supplement my career was too foreign to him. Since he was satisfied with where he was at with his own career, I decided not to pursue the debate; but he knew where I stood.
Networking to me, is a way to meet like-minded colleagues. Of course, you will be cordial and respectful, as you are with all professional interactions. No need to "butter" on the charm, but a face-to-face meeting is more memorable if the person has an energy about them. This is not being "fake". It is creating a fun, genuine, personable environment for that person to remember you by. If you share a passion for an idea, a connection is born and usually stays for a long time.
Creating a network is not just about attending a meeting or reception and talking about trivial ideas. Effective face-to-face networking involves self assessment and research. Assess what you want to know more about. Where do you want your career to be? What drives you? Research up on who is attending the event. Read about their backgrounds and science interests. Find those you are interested in and ask pertinent questions that relates to them and that would help your own career goals. Go home and write a professional follow-up email with a thank-you. If you found the interaction a success (personality and like-minded in the scientific or career ideas,) maintain the relationship with a LinkedIn invite and few relevant emails throughout the year.
With the power of LinkedIn and Groups, I have broadened my own electronic network and have made email connections to those individuals I find to share similar interests and goals. For example, I am currently helping with finding guest speakers for a career development course. Some of them I already knew, some of them I met at a networking reception, and some have volunteered through my a LinkedIn discussion I started. I have met a myriad of people, all of them eager to help support my cause. "Networking" to me is not "evil." It is a great tool to support an individual's pursuit to achieve a common goal and passion.
Along the networking journey, I have also helped others in return. It's a lovely circle.