From the Irish Independent:

HOW TOP PEOPLE NETWORK THEIR WAY TO SUCCESS
(… and the latest is to make the net work for them)

When it comes to getting ahead in the workplace, networking is the name of the game – and increasingly it is taking place on the internet. Kim Bielenberg reports on the world of canapés and contacts.

Have you ever wondered why the boss of your company is allowed to take a four-hour lunch break while you languish at your desk with a convenience store sandwich? The simple answer is networking. He (for it is still usually a he) is there to win friends and influence people for his company. And when he is fed up with his company, he will find another job in the corner of some over-priced restaurant – again through relentless networking.

While the networking lunch may simply be the best excuse ever for heavy drinking and gluttony, for most networkers, these meetings are crucial, requiring meticulous attention to detail. Bill Clinton is said to have kept an information card for everyone he has met since university. It is a strategy that has served him well.

… According to Dublin human resources consultant Rowan Manahan, 50-60% of middle to higher management appointments in the business world are made through, “some level of personal contact.”

“There is a simple reason why people get jobs through networking,” says Manahan. “Human beings don’t like strangers. Employers don’t want to have to deal with a thousand clowns applying for a job. If they can find someone they know or know of, it is usually preferable.”

It may sicken the humble wage slave to know that he or she can only get to the top by rubbing shoulders and scoffing canapés with other networkers at countless dreary bunfights – but that really is the modern workplace reality. The old school tie and the golf-club dinner party may still have their uses, but increasingly the movers and shakers are extending their contact networks online. the boom in online social networking (MySpace, Facebook etc) is being shadowed by an explosion in online business networking on sites such as Linkedin.

Linkedin, which has 15 million users, operates as a sort of Bebo or MySpace for the grown-up business suits. Once you have joined, you form a network with previous acquaintances from a workplace or from a college, and then gradually expand it. It has been described as a “way to shake hands electronically with new contacts.”

When I joined up, I was immediately contacted by a friend from college, who wanted me added as a contact. I came across about 10 people whom I already knew. Most claimed blushingly that they had been asked to join the site by someone else. (These sites, it should be noted, are not flawless. Earlier this year it was reported that there were several people on Linkedin claiming to be Tony Blair. One of them billed himself as “Prime Minister of Great Britain Ltd. and Owner, Great Britain Ltd..”)

Rowan Manahan says his membership of Linkedin has helped him in business. “I have just 84 direct contacts, but that gives me access to 4,600 indirect contacts. I would say that Linkedin has definitely opened up new business.”

“You can make good contacts on the internet, but it goes without saying that you would still prefer to meet people face-to-face – especially if you are going to hire them, or even if you are going to recommend them to someone else,” says Manahan.

… (all in all) Networking is probably just an exaggerated version of what most people do when meeting strangers: establishing points of common interest and building rapport.