Being a naturally extroverted person, the concept of ‘networking’ in its professional sense always seemed slightly odd to me. Making ‘contacts’ based on the potential that they could help you down the line in your career rather than through sincerity never sat with me well. Navigating through all the internships and work experience I’ve had; my questioning to a seemingly self centred practise that arguably promotes nepotism; was almost always met with a nonchalant response as it being something you just have to do if you ever want to get anywhere. While I agree having charisma is an important skill to nurture I believe we can tackle this often daunting task by taking example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). He is a great example of an individual with exceptional ‘networking skills’ of whom we can learn alot from and apply to beyond just our personal lives.
Even before the Prophet (pbuh) received the word of God, he was known by people of the time as an extremely well-mannered and diplomatic individual regardless of who he was interacting with. Importantly, despite his message being controversial at the time,the people of Makkah still took the time to listen to him for they knew he was someone who always spoke truthfully and from a place of reason. Indeed, a key part of networking is how people talk about you, that’s how first impressions are first built, not what you really say and do. The Prophet (pbuh) according to seerah never knew himself that he was destined for the grand task of Prophethood however his skills as a diplomatic business man are indicative of how he came to be the lead figure of one of the largest religions in the world. He became the head of Madina, which was originally called Yathrib, as result of the political disputes and needed someone to neutralise the situation and heard that the Prophet was skilled in this. As result the Muslim community at the time finally established their first Islamic State which springboarded Islam’s global influence.
As seen in the example of the Prophet (pbuh) networking is a long game and not something instantaneous. It takes time to actually earn real respect and trust of an individual for them to even consider providing you with opportunities. Hence, no matter where you are in life whether you have just started sixth form or are in the middle of your degree, how you show up now for the people around you could be the reason doors are opened for you years down the line. Your most important networks are not the ones you will make in the future, but the ones you have right now, no matter what stage in life you are. Your friends, teachers and your current employer should be aware of your current interests and career goals because you do not know how they are talking to, and there is always a chance that they have someone in their network that could help you, but you can’t reach them if you do not genuinely show up for the other person! Additionally, it is important to connect with those on the same experience level as you instead of constantly chasing those more qualified than you because eventually they will become decision makers and they decide who walked the journey with them. This is important for people who are going to or going back to university as it is a place filled with such diverse talent, get to know people as much as you can beyond just the ones who share the same classes as you or are in the same society as you. You will be very surprised how much these contacts come in handy. For example, despite studying History and Philosophy of Science, I have a few friends who studied music production and sound engineering at a different university to me that I met through working in retail and when I shared that I had wanted to start a podcast they gave me extremely valuable advice related to audio production that gave me the confidence to start despite having little understanding of the technology that I would had to sift through online articles and YouTube videos for.
What’s most important to recognise however, that I think is often neglected in conversations related to networking is the human aspect of it. There is a human on the other side of the person you are trying to connect with, not a Yellow Pages book. Once you see every individual around you as a person worthy of your respect and compassion the way the Prophet (pbuh) himself did, you will find that opportunities will be handed to you, guaranteed.