Networking refers to a set of behaviors used to develop and maintain relationships that can potentially provide information, influence, guidance, and support to individuals in their careers. Actively maintaining contacts inside and outside of one’s organization, engaging in professional and community activities, and increasing one’s organizational visibility through accepting challenging work assignments are examples of networking behaviors. Social network and careers research have emphasized the importance of engaging in networking behaviors in the attainment of valuable career outcomes such as enhanced advancement, compensation, career satisfaction, and career mobility.
Networking is believed to enhance career outcomes mainly because networking behaviors help individuals develop their social capital. Social capital refers to the resources available to individuals through their network relationships. Some of the resources embedded in one’s network of relationships include information, expertise, professional and political advice, exposure, friendship, and support. Availability of such resources in turn facilitates career advancement and development primarily because these resources enable individuals to have greater access to different career opportunities both inside and outside of their current organization and to develop their ability to act on these opportunities.
Network researchers state that the accumulation of valuable social capital requires the development of networks with certain structural characteristics. Network size or the number of contacts that constitutes one’s network is one of the important characteristics of an effective network. Although the development of large networks is critical for finding new job opportunities and for creating intrafirm mobility, the sheer size of a network is not sufficient to accumulate valuable resources. In addition to the size of a network, network structure and composition also need to be considered when developing effective networks.
Network structure explains how contacts in one’s network are connected to each other. It is considered to be beneficial for an individual to build a low-density network connected through weak ties. Weak ties are represented by less frequent and less emotionally intense relationships than strong ties. Weak ties are thought to be advantageous because they reach outside of one’s immediate social clique and therefore offer unique, nonredundant information and resources to the individual. Low-density networks are characterized by structures in which one is connected to individuals who are not connected with each other. By linking otherwise disconnected individuals, one gains important information and control benefits such as referrals on his or her behalf, timely access to diverse and unique sets of information, and greater control over the flow of information and resources due to brokering opportunities available in such a network.
Network composition refers to characteristics and types of contacts that make up one’s personal network. It is advantageous to develop a diverse network composed of contacts from a variety of social contexts (e.g., work, family, and community) and contacts with different demographic and organizational characteristics (e.g., gender, organizational level, and organizational affiliation). Knowing many kinds of people from many different social contexts is believed to improve one’s chance of getting a good job and to increase one’s power base and advancement opportunities in an organization. Forming relationships with contacts who hold high status positions inside and outside of one’s organization is found especially useful to obtain future promotions and highly prestigious jobs.
In recent years, networking as a career management tool has gained considerable research interest due to a drastic increase in the number of people experiencing more fluid careers with high cross-organizational mobility. It is believed that successful navigation of such careers requires the development of interpersonal relationships through networking, because this helps individuals exploit career opportunities outside the current employment context and remain continuously employed. Given the importance of networking in the pursuit of newly emerging careers, researchers have started to focus more specifically on understanding the types, predictors, and outcomes of networking behaviors.
Studies examining the relationship between networking behaviors and career outcomes have found that networking is associated with salary progression, promotions, and enhanced interfirm career mobility. Recent research has become more refined in terms of identifying different types of networking behaviors and studying their effects on important career outcomes. This research identified five different types of networking behaviors—maintaining contacts, socializing, engaging in professional activities, participating in community, and increasing internal visibility—and found that only two networking behavior types, increasing internal visibility and engaging in professional activities, positively affected the number of promotions, total compensation, and the perceived career success of managerial and professional employees.
Recent research has examined several demographic, dispositional, attitudinal, and job-related factors as possible predictors of networking behaviors. This research has found that the demographic variables of gender and socioeconomic background and the personality and attitudinal characteristics of self-esteem, extraversion, and favorable attitudes toward workplace politics are significant predictors of involvement in networking behaviors. In terms of job-related factors, one’s organizational level and type of position influence whether individuals engage in networking behaviors.
Because of its highly pronounced importance in the pursuit of newly emerging fluid career forms, networking has become a mainstream topic of interest in both the popular press and scholarly writings. Empirical research has shed some light on the dimensions, predictors, and consequences of networking behaviors. However, further research is needed for developing more comprehensive theoretical models and scales of networking behaviors.
- Forret, M. L. and Dougherty, T. W. 2004. “Networking Behaviors and Career Outcomes: Differences for Men and Women.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 24:419-437.
- Granovetter, M. 1995. Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Higgins, M. C. 2001. “Changing Careers: The Effects of Social Context.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 22:595-618.
- Seibert, S. E., Kraimer, M. L. and Liden, R. C. 2001. “A Social Capital Theory of Career Success.” Academy of Management Journal 44:219-237.