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23- Networking

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23. Networking

Dr. Nigel Ashford, Senior Program Officer, Institute for Humane Studies



Why Network?


Networks are people communicating with each other, sharing ideas, information, and resources.


Why do so many resist the idea of networking? First, some think it is unethical, that somehow you are using other people for your own ends. There is nothing wrong with pursuing your own self-interest, providing it does not harm others. But networking is also about helping others as well as yourself. It is not a zero-sum game; it should be a positive-sum game, where all involved may benefit. The second objection is that many people find it difficult; they feel they lack the personality to be successful at it. They may be shy. But almost everyone finds networking difficult when they begin. We all find it difficult to interact with total strangers. But it is a skill you can learn by practice. Later on, we shall suggest some very specific tips on how to deal with social occasions.


Why should you network? First, it is an important means to achieving success in life, however you want to describe success. Second, it can be mutually beneficial, as the people you engage with can benefit from your knowledge and skills. It is not a one-way street. Third, it helps to build your community. We are not “isolated atomistic individuals” as we are sometimes portrayed. Everyone needs a sense of community, of belonging to something bigger than our selves. Finally, networking can be fun. Think of all those interesting people out there that you have not (yet) met and did not know even existed.


Goals of Networking


You have to decide what your goals are in networking, which may depend on where you are in life. Of course you will have multiple goals, the importance of which may vary with the event, from finding a job to finding a partner. Here are some possible goals. What are your primary goals today?


1) Get a job. You may be on the job search or thinking about it. You may be graduating from undergraduate or graduate school, in an internship, or looking to move to another work challenge. Studies show that over half of jobs are found though personal connections, and that figure is probably higher for the policy world.


2) Improve your ideas and work. We should always want to improve our understanding of the world and seek to be challenged so we can work out the very best of ideas. We are all wrong about something, but we do not know what it is until we have clearly articulated our ideas and then faced criticisms.


3) Promote your ideas. If you believe that your ideas of limited government are better than the prevailing wisdom, you should seek to find appropriate locations to express those ideas. If you do not always convince others, you do open them up to alternative views. Initially, people are resistant to new ideas (as they should be), but later they may repeat your arguments to others after reflecting on them. Do not expect instant converts.


4) Establish a good reputation. Be someone that others want to associate with. Don’t be a “lunch tax,” the person that people want to avoid because you only talk about yourself, or are always miserable. Gossip can be unhealthy if not based on knowledge and information. But talking about others is inevitable as humans are always interested in their fellow human beings. You want the gossip about you to be positive, that she works hard, that she is creative, that he is reliable.


5) Receive invitations to write and speak. In public policy you want to spread your ideas to others. The predominant way to do that is by writing and speaking. So you should be looking out for opportunities to express your ideas in written or verbal form. Conversations at events can lead to invitations to write something or speak.


6) Get published. How do you get published? You can send in articles blind, and they may be accepted, but publications usually receive many more submissions than they can accept. They are more likely to give attention to submissions from people they have met, or are recommended by people they know. A friend once said that he wanted no unpublished thought. I corrected him that he should want no “good” unpublished thought, so do think carefully before submitting anything.


7) Obtain letters of recommendation. You need people to provide you with letters of reference. While people who know you well are necessary, it can also help to have a letter of recommendation from someone who may not know you that well, but is well-known to the person to whom you are applying. In any job or internship, you should be thinking who would be a good reference.


8) Understand the culture. Being a student and working in public policy are very different worlds. Flip-flops and t-shirts will not be the dress code. One policy institution may be very different from another. For example, some are very deferential to the management, while in others, the relationship is more flat. In one, the dress code is very important and strict and is more relaxed in another. You need to know what is appropriate for whatever scene you are in.


9) Obtain intellectual stimulation. One of the reasons you have chosen the path of the policy world is that you have a strong interest in ideas and their consequences. If not, why are you considering this as a career? Networking is the place to come across new ideas that will stimulate your brain cells more than any illegal drug.


10) Create your community. Some of the people with whom you network will become your friends, your community, your “family,” but you do not know who they will be until you meet them.


Key Concepts


There is an extensive literature on networking and you can find some references to read at the end of this section. Being aware of these concepts might help you to appreciate what is going on when you network.


1) Dispersed knowledge. F.A. Hayek is the thinker most associated with the idea of the knowledge problem—that we all suffer from limited knowledge. He notes that knowledge is widely dispersed. This is why central planning cannot work. This means that everyone you meet has some knowledge that could have value or interest to you. Your goal is to find out what that knowledge is. Dispersed knowledge is spread in everyone’s hands, so do not waste too much time talking to someone who is unwilling or unable to share their knowledge.


2) The strength of weak ties. It is people you barely know who may be of the greatest value to you. More than 80 percent of those who say they got a job though personal connections say that person was an acquaintance, not a friend, when a friend is defined as someone you see at least once a month. Studies suggest that most people get their jobs through weak ties, such as a friend of a friend or a distant family member.


3) Reciprocity. Successful networkers are those who give as well as those who benefit. International studies on why fellow workers cooperate with each other show very different styles. For Americans, the principle is reciprocity, the belief that the other person would help them if asked. In China, cooperation depended on orders from an authority figure. The Spanish help those they like. Germans cooperate if it conforms to the rules. In America, reciprocity is the key ingredient. Avoid people who are takers but not givers.


4) Structural holes. Filling in structural holes is the term for when one connects people who should know each other but do not. You should connect people with common interests, e.g., in health care or Africa.


5) Articulate commonalities. What do you say when you meet a total stranger? You should try to identify things you have in common. It might be your college, state, sport, policy interest, etc. So when introducing yourself, give your full name, and something about you that might lead to a connection. “I am a student at x university.” “I intern at the Cato Institute.”


6) Connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Malcolm Gladwell identifies three different types of people. Connectors bring people together. Mavens collect knowledge and information. Salesmen are good at promotion. Ideally, you should have all three qualities, but that is difficult, so identify your strengths. Make sure you surround yourself with people with a variety of strengths.




Events like receptions, lectures, and conferences are the best places to network. Here are some ideas on how to successfully network there:


1) Attend as many events as possible, as early as possible.


2) Decide which are of most value to you.


3) Identify who you want to meet there.


4) Ask a question, give your name, and talk to speakers. Ask a question that will be of interest to others in the audience, and don’t just give a long diatribe about your favorite hobbyhorse.


5) Socialize. Attend any reception before or after the event. Introduce yourself and others. Do not just hang around with the people you already know.


6) Organize your own event, such as a reading group, a lecture, or a dinner party.


7) Do a post-event follow-up, contacting people that might be of value.




1) Have a 30-second elevator speech to introduce yourself briefly to a stranger.


2) Carry business cards. If you do not have them, get them. You can them free from

That includes students!


3) Wear your name badge on the right, where it is more visible.


4) Smile. :)


5) Introduce yourself to strangers, starting with those talking with people you already know.


6) Give others your undivided attention. Do not give the impression you are more interested in someone else in the room (even when you are).


7) Give sincere praise when appropriate.


8) Share information about events with fellow students, interns, and workers.


9) Listen and understand what the other person is saying before you respond.


10) Do not interrupt, even if you know what is coming next.


11) Ask open questions, without taking a stance. Use a follow-up if you want to disagree.


12) Introduce individuals to each other.


13) Ask others about themselves. Where do you go to school? How did you come to work here?


14) Maintain good eye contact. Looking at the ground or behind the person indicates lack of interest.


15) Do not fold your arms. That is body language for boredom.




Think about what resources exist to help you.


1) IHS has staff to assist lovers of liberty to pursue careers in liberty, such as public policy. Contact them for advice.


2) Co-workers.


3) Fellow students and alumni. Check if there is alumni group in your town.


4) Websites (Cato, AEI, Heritage, state think tanks, etc.) can tell you about events.


5) America’s Future Foundation networks young libertarians and conservatives, has active branches in Washington, D.C., and around the country, and has a career center.


6) Mentors who have knowledge in an area and will share it with you.


7) Friends and acquaintances.




Go forth and network! Party with a purpose.



Nigel Ashford is senior program officer at the Institute for Humane Studies, where he lectures at summer seminars and provides guidance to graduate students seeking careers in academia. He joined IHS from the United Kingdom, where he was professor of politics and Jean Monnet Scholar in European Integration at Staffordshire University, England. Dr. Ashford has also directed the Principles for a Free Society Project at the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation in Sweden, and was a Bradley Resident Scholar at the Heritage Foundation and visiting scholar at the Social and Philosophy Policy Center in Bowling Green. He is a recipient of the International Anthony Fisher Trust Prize for published work that strengthens public understanding of the political economy of the free society.


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