Why Network with Others Just Like Us?

In a recent post I highlighted the importance of your social network for landing your dream job.  This was found to be especially so for high profile jobs with correspondingly high pay.  For instance, it was found to be over 80% more likely that you would land a $100,000 a year job through your social network than you would a minimum wage job through your social network.

So networking matters.  Of course, there is no shortage of advice supporting this fact, with oodles of books and articles on how to network more effectively.  They’ll often advocate the virtues of exposing ourselves to new ideas, meeting people from outside of our field and generally spreading our net far and wide. 

It all creates the impression that networking is largely about meeting people that don’t have much in common with us, which makes sense if you think about it.  After all, if we’re meeting people largely identical to us then it’s unlikely that they’ll give us new insights or offer routes into new industries.  Venturing into the relative unknown is perhaps also why networking remains so daunting for so many of us.

Which may explain why - what the experts advocate - is so seldom what any of us actually do.  A study published by researchers from Columbia University highlights the way most of us actually network, and it isn’t at all like we’re supposed to.

The networking echo chamber

Researchers invited participants to a networking event, albeit a networking event with a difference.  Each participant would be fitted with the usual name badge, albeit a name badge that came equipped with tracking technology so that the researchers could see both what people were doing, and who they were doing it with.

As is the mantra preached by networking experts, all of the participants entered the event stating that they wanted to expand their social network, meet new people, and generally broaden their horizons.  The researchers discovered however that reality was at odds with this desire.  Instead, the participants were typically networking with other attendees that were similar to them.

The study found that people would overwhelmingly network with those just like them

For instance, participants from finance based industries would usually network with other financiers.  Those from marketing would do so with other marketing folks, digital people would talk with digital peers, HR with other HR people...  You get the picture.  There were precious few conversations to be found where people crossed either discipline or industry, therefore it’s doubtful that any fresh insights could have been gleaned from the event.

Networking requires diversity

All of which rather defeats the purpose of networking, doesn’t it?  There have been studies showing for instance that we are three times more likely to be innovative when we have a varied social network, and of course there are the career benefits too, yet it remains something that is a challenge to many of us.

It is perhaps not surprising therefore that there is a growing trend for networking applications that use algorithms to match up people that may be of interest to one another.  It may be a little sad that we need technology to do the matchmaking for us, but in this instance it may be well worth it.

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