How to Make Your Network Work for You

Jan 24, 2019

By Pete Leibman

What Is Networking?Networking is nothing more than a lifelong process of building friendships. (In contrast, what I call Job Search Networking is the process of generating job leads, referrals, and information from other people.)

Networking is for anyone and everyone. If you are generous, reliable, and willing to put in the effort needed to build relationships, you can be great at networking. This is true no matter where you are from and no matter what your personality is. Like anything, networking also gets much easier with practice. Let me clear up a few more misconceptions I had about networking, since you might have them as well.

Networking is not “a sign of weakness.” There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Life is a team sport. Kobe Bryant has teammates and coaches, and Tom Brady has teammates and coaches. In other words, even the world’s greatest athletes got to where they are with help from other people. It is not a sign of weakness to rely on networking, especially at the start of your career. Networking is a sign of strength. It’s an admission and acceptance of the fact that you don’t have all the answers.

Networking is not “collecting business cards.” Several years ago, I attended a networking event with a colleague. Before the event, he challenged me to a contest to see who could collect more business cards that evening. I declined. There’s nothing wrong with trying to meet a lot of people, but never pursue quantity over quality. One meaningful, strategic interaction with the right person will provide much more value than 10 superficial conversations with people who lack hiring authority or who will never remember you.

Networking is not “annoying to other people.” How would you feel if someone sent you an e-mail, told you she admired you, and asked for some of your advice on how she could be like you in the future? Would you get angry? Would you be annoyed? Of course not. Here’s the truth: When done correctly and genuinely, networking is flattering to other people. This does not mean that everyone will welcome your requests for advice, but I have found that most people (especially really successful people) love to share their success secrets and tell their stories.

Networking is not “cheating.” When I interviewed with the Washington Wizards as a student in college, the people there didn’t say, “You know one of our former senior executives, huh? Well, in that case, there is no need to interview you. You’re hired!” Instead, their thought process was: “You know one of our former senior executives, huh? In that case, we’ll take a look at your résumé and give you a chance to come in for an interview to prove why we should hire you.” Networking is not nepotism. Do people get hired sometimes just because of whom they are related to or whom they know personally? Of course. However, that’s not what I’m trying to teach you here. Networking is just how you get a chance to sell yourself. There is nothing unethical about this strategy. It’s usually the only way you will get a chance to prove why you deserve your dream job.

Networking is not “something you do only when you need a job or favor.” If you try to connect with people only when you need something, you might get away with it initially, but it will catch up with you quickly. Networking is something you must do throughout your career. Again, networking is a lifelong process of building friendships.

Networking is not “all about whom you know.” Most people think networking is all about the people you know. They are wrong. Some people think networking is all about who knows you. They are also wrong.

Networking is About Likeability and Respect
Here’s the truth: Networking is all about who likes you and who respects you. Before referring you to someone else, a successful person is consciously or subconsciously asking herself, “Do I like and respect this person enough to put my reputation on the line by introducing her to someone I trust?” If the answer is “no,” networking will get you nowhere. However, if the answer is “yes,” a young job-seeker can usually get almost anyone to open his -Rolodex.

The good news is that it does not take years of rapport-building to get someone to like you and respect you, and it is incredibly easy to stand out in a good way. You just need to make someone confident that you will represent him well if he puts his reputation on the line by introducing you to his contacts. For example, one of the executives influential in helping me get my dream job in the NBA was someone I spoke to for less than three minutes in person. I simply introduced myself to him the right way at a networking event. The result? He connected me with five of his best contacts after we spoke briefly on the phone the next week. I’d be willing to bet he had some family members (i.e., people he “knew” very well) that he would not have been willing to do that for.

Now that we have discussed what networking is and what networking is not, let’s discuss the different types of Job Search Networking and some other key terms you need to understand.

Types of Contacts
Affiliations are organizations you are a member of through your personal life, your academic life, or your professional life. This includes any religious groups, athletic leagues, social clubs, volunteer groups, academic institutions, honor societies, Greek organizations, professional associations, etc.

  • Level 1 Contacts are people you already know, such as your friends, family, or professional contacts.
  • Level 2 Contacts are people you do not know (yet), but who have something in common with you. You could both know the same person, or you could both be part of a specific group. Level 2 Contacts are “hidden” contacts, and most people never take the time to find them.
  • Level 3 Contacts are people you do not know (yet) who do not share any common connections or affiliations with you.
  • Game Changers are successful senior executives in your ideal industry with the power to hire you or the ability to influence other people with the power to hire you. Game Changers can be Level 1 Contacts, Level 2 Contacts, or Level 3 Contacts.

Types of Networking

  • Warm Networking is the process of connecting with your Level 1 Contacts (people you already know), while also using your Level 1 Contacts and your Affiliations to connect with your Level 2 Contacts (people you have something in common with). This is called Warm Networking because you are likely to get a warm, positive response from people you know and people you have something in common with.
  • Cool Networking is the process of introducing yourself in person to Level 3 Contacts who are GameChangers. This is called Cool Networking because you are less likely to get a positive response than with Warm Networking. Having said that, I got my dream job in the NBA through Cool Networking, so it can still be very effective, when done correctly. (Cool Networking is what most people think of when they hear the word “networking.”)
  • Cold Networking is the process of introducing yourself via phone or the Internet to Level 3 Contacts who are Game Changers. This is called Cold Networking because you are least likely to get a positive response from this form of networking.
  • Advice Appointments are 15- to 30-minute appointments (in person or on the phone) when you get to interview Game Changers for advice on breaking into a certain field. Advice Appointments are not “Informational Interviews.” (You may be more familiar with that term.) While Informational Interviews are used to determine if you want to pursue a certain field, Advice Appointments are used to get advice after you have already decided what you want to do. (We’ll discuss Advice Appointments in detail in Chapter 6.)

Insider Information is information provided by a Game Changer about best practices for breaking into an industry. Insider Information also includes information about trends or best-practices for a certain field. You can also get Insider Information through a variety of online sources that will be covered later in this chapter. To be 100% clear, I’m not talking about anything illegal, like insider secrets on stocks. I’m just talking about insights that are generally not known by people outside an industry.

Do whatever you can to meet people in person, regardless of what type of contact they are or how you get connected. This is extremely important! Something magical happens when you meet someone face-to-face.

Action Steps

  1. Create a Current Contact List. List all of the personal contacts, academic contacts, and professional contacts in your current network.
  2. Connect online. Once you have identified all the people you already know, connect to them on Facebook with everyone and send personalized invitations to connect on LinkedIn.
  3. Make a list of your affiliations and any relevant resources/events.  Go to the website for each of your personal, academic, and professional affiliations, and see if there is a “Careers” page. Make note of any relevant events worth attending, such as career workshops, career fairs, or alumni networking events.

© 2012 Pete Leibman. Excerpted and adapted from I Got My Dream Job and So Can You, with permission of the publisher, AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. All rights reserved.

About the Author(s)

Pete Leibman networked his way into a job with the NBA’s Washington Wizards when he was only 21 years old and later went on to become their number one salesperson. He is founder of the Dream Job Academy ( and the author of I Got My Dream Job and So Can You (AMACOM).