Six Degrees of Networking

Published on
November 10, 2020
Time to read: 
Two people from different generations sit smiling and talking on a park bench looking at a phone
Thank you to Andrea Piacquadio and Pexels for this image.

Many people have heard of the concept of six degrees of separation. Where your connections likely know people, who can help you connect with pretty much anyone in the world, in 6 connections or less. Social media actually speeds up this process, helping people connect with those they are looking for with fewer steps.

Networking is useful for career development, growing your business and for connecting to like minded people who care about the same issues you care about.

Everyone knows people. People you meet through your family, neighbours, schooling, jobs and volunteer work. We all have networks of people we are connected to. Social media has made it much easier to connect to people we admire and/or want to learn from.

LinkedIn is a prime example. You can literally search LinkedIn for the person you’d like to connect with. If they are within 2 degrees of separation (you’re connected to at least one person in common) then even with the free version of LinkedIn you can send them a direct message asking to join their network.

Twitter has been studied by social scientists, to determine how effective it is at helping people make the connections they want. Most people on Twitter can connect with who they want to meet in 4 steps or less. Social media can make networking easier.

Whether you network online or in person there are a few things to remember.

  1. Anyone you meet, no matter where you meet them, can become part of your network
  2. Get to know the person and what they’re interested in
  3. Tell them a little about you
  4. Offer to help them achieve their goals
  5. Do NOT lead with a specific request for help  
  6. Do feel free to share a preview of what you’re looking for

Even during a pandemic, there are opportunities to meet and connect with people. I joined Instagram two weeks ago and just by following and liking the posts of some people I already know; Instagram keeps suggesting other people with similar profiles for me to follow. There are many online groups in Facebook where like minded people connect and share ideas. You can connect to these groups by asking your Facebook friends what groups they belong to.

If you already know who you’re trying to connect to, then all you have to do is ask.  Let’s use an example, say you’re interested in a career in banking. And you’d like to do an informational interview, but you’re uncomfortable cold calling people at banks to ask them for 15-20 minutes of their time. You can ask the people you know, for example your teachers, mentors and even classmates, if they know anyone in banking that they can introduce you to. Chances are someone in your network knows someone in banking. The more people you ask, the more likely you’ll find someone with the right connections.

Whether you meet someone in person, or online, take some time to get to know the person. You can search their online profiles and posts to see what they’re interested in and if they show signs of having the information or connections you’re looking for.

Part of networking is getting to know each other. It’s OK to share a little bit about yourself. It’s recommended that you keep some things private, especially in online networking. While most people are nice, there are still some creeps and predators online and in real life. It’s OK to go slow in networking!

One of the fastest ways to build trust in any networking relationship is to help your connections reach their goals. This could be as simple as suggesting a connection or resource.

While one of the major benefits of networking is getting to connect with people who can help you, if you’re like me you find it off-putting when people lead with a sales pitch. I recommend investing some time in getting to know your new connections before hitting them up with a specific request for help.

It’s a good idea to give your connections a preview of what you’re looking for with statements such as “I’m getting ready to transition to a new career. I’m starting to explore my options. Do you know anyone who works in banking?” If your connection doesn’t know anyone in banking, they may know someone who does, and be willing to connect you to that person, getting you one step closer.

All you have to do is ask!  Note: you may have to ask several people!

PS: If you want to learn more about the 6 degrees of separation and the Twitter study, you can read the Wikipedia article by clicking here.