Networking is often viewed as a necessary evil. Many people tend to dislike the forced nature of interacting with people and being personable as simply a means to progress professionally.
However, the best networking professionals are those who balance this professional drive with genuine empathy and social skills. They understand the needs of their audience and focus on giving as much as – or more than – they get.
Forming an organic but effective network of contacts takes time, skills, patience, and most of all: genuine connections. This might sound like something only the most social among us can accomplish, but with a little help from some of the top experts in the business networking world, anyone can attain these goals.
Before we get into the how it might be useful to briefly cover the what. Networks can take many forms and there are three ways to break them down:
- Online networks alone can take many forms, but they are typically comprised of a diversity of contacts that are mostly connected via social media. Online networks benefit from the ease of contact, the diversity of the relationships, and the visibility of your communications in the public sphere. The downside is that without a face-to-face interaction, they aren’t typically as personal as other forms of network.
- Strong contact networks are typically small groups of effective professionals, each representing an industry or company. These are your people on the inside. They can create opportunities or find who you need when you need them.
- Casual networks are the people you have coffee dates or phone calls with to check in once every few months. They’re larger groups, with multiple representatives from similar areas, so the effect can be diluted, but the benefits of maintaining them are in the ease of communication.
If these concepts are new or unusual, there are ways to become more familiar with them. There are countless texts on the topic, and we’ve selected ten popular ones to look through, that we’ve listed below. They cover a range of topics from networking specifics, to more general social tips and quirks that you can apply to your efforts.
Can Networking Books help?
There are a lot of people making money by regurgitating common knowledge or, even worse, bad science. However, when looking for advice, there is also a strong cohort of successful, well-intentioned, and experienced businesspeople happy to share their knowledge.
Reading what they’ve got to say can enlighten you on themes you never considered. Introverts can find hidden strengths, extroverts can explore new strategies and everyone in between can take inspiration from the success stories of some of the most accomplished business people in the game.
However, there are too many books available to just jump in and start reading, so we’ve compiled a list of ten that we think might be a good starting point. They cover a range of styles, specifics, and general principles and have all been highly rated.
Take a look at our top ten best books on networking:
Ten Best Networking Books
It only makes sense to start with what is probably the most iconic book on social advancement of the 20th century. In it, Dale Carnegie illustrates real-life scenarios and breaks down social interactions into various stages among the book’s chapters.
This book was written for a popular audience and is not considered a comprehensive guide to networking by any means, but its simple, well-articulated intentions appeal to many laypeople and have famously influenced the likes of Warren Buffet and Donna Reed.
One major criticism of this book is that it’s relatively superficial material, and could be considered manipulative, but as the origin of such books, published in 1936, it’s definitely worth checking out.
This deliberately ambiguously-titled work by Derek Coburn points out the futility of throwing business cards around at the professional’s equivalent of a cattle auction and suggests doing things differently, including designing your own networking events.
There are a lot of reasons why traditional networking doesn’t work as well as it used to, and you can be certain that they’ll be listed in this text. One of the key takeaways from this book is the concept of “pay it forward”. Networking is Not Working gives insights into the interconnectedness of professional networking and the way that value can be indirectly achieved.
This book gives instructions on how to become a ‘connector’ and contribute value to your network; reaping the benefits of a valuable network in return.
In her book, Olivia Fox Cabane dispels the idea that charisma is an inherent trait. For those with a more introverted disposition, this can be some very encouraging news.
Not specifically a networking book, The Charisma Myth offers fundamental information relating to becoming your most influential and inspiring self. The key, according to Cabane, is to emphasize what you already have. Find your social strengths and learn how to market them.
Criticisms include a lack of rigor in the book’s psychological research and perhaps some misunderstandings of the fundamental drivers for her suggestions, but in all, Cabane presents a very intelligent set of strategies and depictions for ‘charisma styles’ from which to work.
Another book on the value of being less self-absorbed. Adam Grant offers further support to the idea that when you stop focussing on yourself, good things come your way.
One thing that stands out in this book is the idea that balancing what you take is equally important. Givers are run over quickly and takers are easily avoided. Finding that sweet spot between both is what carves out a confident and respectable vision of entitlement in social situations.
This is very valuable information for networkers as it emphasizes the imperfectible balance between what to hand out and what to demand. Unfortunately, the book has been criticized for its laborious writing style, but with its focus on how giving is underestimated as a valuable strategy for success, the contents in Give and Take should speak for themselves.
If you’re introverted and you think it’s holding you back, think again! Introverts have the power to change the world, according to author Lisa Petrilli. In this guide, the author lays out actionable steps to become more successful in life, networking, and business.
With an understanding of the concept of introversion, Petrilli focuses on drawing internal energy and ideas to offer successful networking strategies designed specifically for introverts. One of the key takeaways from this book is that shyness and introversion are not synonymous.
This book has inspired many who previously thought that their social style was holding them back.
This is almost as short as the title would suggest. Paul Hellman efficiently compiles the concept of first impressions and offers guidance on how to maximize them. Bringing to light the needs of the audience, this book tries to put the reader in the position of the recipient of your actions and helps provide strategies for making a good impression based on this.
The context of You’ve Got 8 Seconds is essentially how to market your conversation points. If you’ve got 8 seconds to grab your audience, how do you prioritize and package your information to keep them engaged? Once you’ve got their attention, Hellman explains how to keep it and what to do with it.
These skills are aimed at speeches, networking, and even composing emails, so there’s plenty to take with you.
Robin K. Dreeke also focuses on the agency of your audience with his book on building quick rapport with anyone. The book talks about how to work with people’s needs to get the information you’re looking for. Whether this means massaging their ego, reading their body language, or simply understanding their dreams.
With the skills learned here, Dreeke claims that leadership will come more naturally. Readers will lead by influence, rather than simply commanding, and will quickly pick up skills used by some of the world’s top politicians.
The examples in the book may be a little divisive in the current political climate, and some of the fundamentals are dubious since body language is not a strict science, but as a general guide, many readers consider this a powerful text.
This is one of the few books on our list specifically aimed at networking. As such, it takes into account a lot of the themes of the other books listed here and presents them in a context most applicable to your networking goals.
Andrea Nierenberg shares her strategies for maintaining her network of 2500+ contacts using marketing and networking techniques developed over her years of experience as a marketing consultant.
Nierenberg has multiple books on networking, and Savvy Networking is one of her most popular. Readers praise the actionable steps and unorthodox tips to boost their networking skills.
The next chapter of Andrea Nierenberg’s work covers most of the basics in the previous book but builds upon them and organizes the best solutions from all her previous work into one catalog. For anyone looking for a summary of the best networking tips, Nierenberg has them here.
This compilation covers everything from finding the networking mentality to creating relationships, building them, and maintaining them successfully as well as bringing up new ways to network to help you connect with others most effectively.
Readers rate this book even more highly than her previous one, so if you don’t have time for both, this could be a good choice.
Karen Wikre brings more advice for introverts in this Guide to Making and Keeping Great Connections. This reassuring work focuses on using your introversion to your advantage and making those important, deep connections.
This is a how-to approach to networking and covers suggestions involving curiosity, generosity, and loose-touch communication to maintain personal connections with your extended professional network.
For those who thought extroverts were the only ones good at networking, this book is going to be an eye-opening read.
Networking Best Practices
From the literature above, you’re going to get almost everything you need to network effectively and successfully. However, if you’re short on time and reading ten books seems like it might be overkill, here are some of the fundamental takeaways of networking that everyone should follow.
There are five core concepts to networking, many of which are simple tips, still inexplicably overlooked by many.
Dedicate Time to Networking
One thing people seem to forget is that networking is part of the job. While primarily a social activity, this is definitely something that needs to be scheduled and executed in alignment with a work plan.
Whether reading about networking or getting out there to do it, you need to dedicate some hours in every week or month to actually getting it done. Consider it your job and allocate it some resources.
On the flip side to point number 1, don’t forget how to socialize. While you’re looking at networking as a job, remember how it works best.
Cold, robotic discussions about how someone can help you make money aren’t going to win you a lot of prospects, and it’s worth remembering that this is a personable pursuit, and your brand is yourself. Therefore, as the book says: you need to win friends and influence people.
Perhaps easier said than done, but certainly easier done when you’re not trying too hard to push your career forward at the expense of being yourself.
If a coin could have a third side, this would be it. While remembering to schedule networking as part of your professional obligations, at the same time as not forgetting to be real, you’ve got to be intelligent about your networking efforts.
Spending your dedicated networking hours being yourself around people who can’t help you progress in your career is a waste of time and energy, so it’s worth maintaining some vision of value in the people you’re looking for.
That’s not to say you should neglect, reject, or be rude to anybody – and in fact, value can be a little hard to determine at first – but if you’re in a networking event chatting away about the game to someone from a totally different sector to the one you’re looking to advance in, chances are you’re not getting the most out of the opportunity.
Always make an appointment
Don’t leave a meeting without creating an opportunity to follow up. This is a pretty simple tip, but it’ll make all the difference to your progress. Part of networking is knowing how and when to lead and convert, and this involves repeated interactions with your network to incrementally improve your situation.
The best way to make these incremental improvements is to make sure you always arrange for the next stage before finishing the current one. Do this by scheduling a continuation with your prospect, even if it’s a loose commitment. The timing of this will depend on the situation. If it’s a mentor, don’t pester them with weekly requests for lunch dates, but do suggest a catch-up in a few weeks, and follow that up with an email.
Give Something Back
Unfortunately, this is not as obvious as it should be. It’s easy to get so distracted with your direction that you forget to consider anybody else’s. In networking, this is a grave mistake. If you’re self-centered, you might get a few meetings out of a situation at best, before your contact gives up on you.
Remember, you’re networking with them for the same reason as they’re networking with you. This is a mutually-beneficial arrangement. Impart your wisdom, introduce people to your contacts and share what you can. As much as it’s important for you to find valuable networking prospects, it’s important that you are one.
These best practices are not exhaustive and don’t cover the same detail as you’ll find in the books above, so if you’re looking for more help on how to find people, nurture them, and maintain your relationships with them, there’s no substitute for reading some of the books listed.
Networking is a strange balance between professional and personal skills, and the best people for the job are the ones who have mastered both.
Professionals are on the lookout for fakers. A ruthless, competitive businessperson may well sell their own grandmother for a higher rung on the ladder, but this isn’t going to win them any reliable support in the business world (with some notable exceptions). Conversely, a friendly and energetic social butterfly may make many life-long companions but will not be efficiently progressing in their career without a generous helping of luck.
Finding a productive balance between work and play can be extremely difficult in this context, and will take some practice. Fortunately, there is a wealth of resources available, ten of which are listed above.
Because of this, the best books on networking may not be specifically on networking; simply learning how to bridge these gaps in professional and personal relationships will go a long way to boosting your network’s productivity.
Finally, adopting the best practices in networking will ensure you’re someone people can trust, and, when the time comes, will be worthy of their support.