Look for three things in assessing the most valuable networking group for you: 1) shared interest, 2) diverse experience and perspectives, and 3) a culture of helping each other. Seek different types of networking groups depending upon your needs. Make sure there’s enough diversity to avoid the group being just an “echo chamber.” And, yes, networking groups do have their own individual cultures. And culture matters – a lot.

Shared Interest

Networking groups come in all shapes and sizes. Your family is a networking group on its own. Some of you even have friends – another networking group. Then there are school, hobby, community groups and more. The list is endless.

Webster defines networking as “The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.” Start by finding a group focused on something you care about so you can help others in the group and they can help you.

When it comes to business or career-focused groups, Entrepreneur.com describes five types: 1) Casual contact; 2) Strong contact (and referrals); 3) Community service; 4) Professional associations; 5) Online/social media. These might include school alumni organizations, Mom’s groups, functional groups like CEO Connection, YPO (Young Presidents Organization), Vistage, MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group), FENG (Finance), TENG (Technology) and The Executive Forum.

At the executive level, more than 80% of new jobs come from networking. We describe this in our job search tips. Click here to request a free copy of the full tips:

  1. Know yourself, likes and dislikes, ideal job criteria, long-term goals.
  2. Position yourself to create value for others. It’s not about you, but what you can do for them.
  3. Uncover and create options (through networking, personal contacts, etc.) Include options that already exist and create options that do not exist yet, but should.
  4. Prepare for & handle interviews better than anyone else by positioning your motivation, strengths and fit in terms of their needs.
  5. Sell. Then buy. Get the job offer. Then do due diligence. In that order.
  6. Take charge of your own onboarding, get a head start, manage the message, set direction and build the team and then sustain momentum and deliver results.

 

Diverse experience and perspectives

As Lisa Rosenberg told me, “Unless your social network is diverse, you’re speaking in an echo chamber.” Lisa is a Partner and President of Consumer Brands at Allison Worldwide and Chair of the Executive Forum Marketing Committee.

The point is that you need to interact with people with whom you might not normally interact to get different perspectives than you would normally get.

Lisa described starting up a conversation with a man sitting next to her on a plane reading a very different prayer book than she would normally read. That man ended up bringing her three clients.

One man’s path to one of the best jobs he ever had was through a conversation he had with another father on the sideline of his daughter’s soccer game.

At the same time, as Lisa told me, you need “Rigor around building a network. It does not happen by osmosis.”

Culture

Yes. Networking groups do have cultures. The best, like The Executive Forum, have cultures of helping each other. As Lisa explained, at the Executive Forum, “Members commit to make time for each other. If a member asks, you make the time.” Almost by definition, you get out what you put into a networking organization.

Size matters too. Lisa suggests The Executive Forum is the right size (about 400 members.) That allows for enough breadth and diversity while still allowing for “intimacy of programming” with many events run in small groups like member dinners.

As you’re choosing networking groups dig into the BRAVE aspects of their cultures:

  • Behaviors – what they actually do
  • Relationships – how they treat each other
  • Attitudes – what really matters
  • Values – lived, not just written
  • Environment – where and how networking takes place

Implications for you

In some ways, networking is about being selfish together. The Wharton Club describes it as “enlightened self-interest.” You will get more than you give if you start by giving. Thus, be deliberate around whom you choose to give to, investing the time to find groups with which you share an interest, have a different set of experiences and perspectives, and have a culture you want to help build.

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