Networking has been hailed as the key to success in the corporate world. Yet, it's often treated like a numbers game. How many business cards did you collect at the last event? How many LinkedIn connections do you have? But what if this approach is actually hindering us from making valuable, meaningful connections that could bring more to the table than just a transaction? We sat down with Frauke, a professional who's a fierce advocate of authentic networking with a PhD research on the importance of social networks, to find out.
what is networking, really?
"Networking isn't about just linking up to gather resources. It’s about creating an environment where opportunities are not just possible but inevitable," says Frauke. According to her, networking should be about making genuine connections with people, considering the unique contributions each individual brings, such as their skills, experiences, and resources. It's about mutual respect and trust, not just ticking boxes or counting numbers.
5 tips for building authentic connections
"Building genuine connections is about being trustworthy, behaving with integrity, listening, and acting as a caring, thoughtful, helpful human being," advises Frauke.
Here's how to do it:
1. listen up 👂
You can't build a connection if you're just waiting for your turn to speak. Frauke recommends that you truly listen when others are speaking. Ask about what they care about, their aspirations, and interests. Genuine interest creates a fertile ground for genuine relationships.
2. quality over quantity 🤖
“I just looked on LinkedIn and realized that I have more than 1000 connections myself. But when I scroll through the list, I have no idea who half of them are or where or if we met." says Frauke.
Just because you can have 10,000 LinkedIn connections doesn’t mean you should. Frauke cautions, "It creates noise which may distract you from nurturing the relationships that will make a real difference in your life."
3. focus on communication, not contacts 💬
If you're out to improve your networking skills, you're probably doing it wrong. Instead, work on improving your communication. “Ask about what they care about. Why they do the work they do. What they hope to achieve. It’s amazing how quickly you can build a positive connection with someone when you make them feel seen and heard. And do it because it’s a great thing to do, not because of what it will get you. People can feel the difference," shares Frauke. Your ability to connect should not be driven by titles or status but by the quality of interaction you can offer.
4 .diversify your network 🕸
Frauke's PhD research shows that the diversity of your network and your language skills are essential for effective networking, particularly for expats. Engage with a broad range of people to be in a stronger and more helpful position within any network.
5. don't overlook the "unimportant" 🌠
The worst networking advice? "Focus on the most important people in the room", Frauke says. “A lot of the people who in five years’ time will be the most important people in the room will look relatively unimportant right now.”
Focus on building strong relationships with your peers who are also working hard; that's more sustainable.
networking as an expat
For expats, successful labor market integration hinges on two key factors: the diversity of your social network and your language skills. Frauke, who has conducted Ph.D. research on this topic, advises, "Expand your circle beyond the comfort of a gated expat community. By including a diverse range of individuals, you can tap into different resources and establish a network that's mutually beneficial."
mastering networking in big corporates
“A key factor about networking in big corporations is all about meeting people you wouldn't normally encounter”, says Frauke.
The better the quality of your relationships at work, the higher your likelihood of staying and contributing positively. When we understand each other well, there's less friction, more well-being, and greater efficiency. It's a win-win situation.
"At Mondi, we've put this principle into practice through the 'Curious Community.' This initiative allows employees from diverse backgrounds and different positions within the company to meet on eye-level and engage in meaningful conversations." explains Frauke.
make It meaningful
In a nutshell, if your networking strategy is solely based on boosting your contact list, you're missing out. It's not about what people can do for you, but what you can mutually bring to the table. It’s about being genuinely interested in people and creating a relationship that’s built on mutual respect and trust.
So, the next time you find yourself at a networking event or scrolling through LinkedIn, remember Frauke’s words: "Networking isn’t about trying to see what you can get from other people - it’s about looking for common ground and finding ways you can be helpful to them."
So, who will you genuinely connect with today?
Frauke Bastians serves as the Senior Manager for Diversity & Inclusion at Mondi Group, an international packaging and paper company. With a Ph.D. focused on the vital role of social networks in successful labor market integration, Frauke brings a unique and informed viewpoint to the table.