I know - typical ex-investment banker thing to say. Let me try my best to defend myself here without coming across as a career elitist!
Outside of the fact that I love talking to strangers and have a naturally extroverted personality, I used to find networking unnecessary and counterintuitive. I distinctly remember my first "career advice" session during college, where our career dean said the word networking with every breath he took. I expected the session to be focused on resume building and the skills required to obtain a job, not a sermon about how we should get in front of all of our alumni with a "can we hop on the phone sometime next week." I didn't really understand the concept of having small talk with people that could potentially give you a job - to "pick their brain" (my thought was if you pick someone's brain, they die).
Even during the "required" networking sessions as a part of investment banking recruitment, I went back and forth from states of "wow this is awesome that these successful individuals are willing to talk to me" and "we both know I'm doing this to get the job and we could both save each other 30 minutes if this culture went away all together." I was very aware of the cultural values that you could only obtain through these conversations and the name drops you could make during interviews, but even then I thought the most efficient way was to avoid this altogether and hire based on "meritocracy" (I somewhat don't think this exists or is truly possible in the surface value definition of the word, even in highly technical fields, but that's for another post).
It's important to note here that my networking experience has largely began with a low barrier to entry and a high "hit rate" - I've rarely been denied a phone call and almost always received a response to my first or second email. This is largely due to Washington and Lee's phenomenal alumni network - which is both by design and the fact that we have less total alumni since our founding in 1749 than the number of students walking around UCLA's campus currently (slightly exaggerated, but you get the point). I think it's quite important to acknowledge this point, as my perception of networking could very well be skewed, and the fact that establishing a connection through shared traits is the very basis of networking is something I often took for granted as most of my networking sessions began at the share college experience starting line.
My next wave of networking following investment banking recruitment was when I was on the other side - I had students (makes me cringe using the word students realizing it's been two whole years since I could own this noun to describe myself) reaching out to me to now pick my brain about investment banking and my firm. The excitement that comes from someone wanting to hear about your life is hard to describe, even as you're handling 80 hour work weeks. There were moments that the irony of describing banking as a great field to get into as I constantly told my peers and family that it was painful got to my head, but there was a weird sense of relief that came from knowing that there was an "audience" that were in the shoes I was in a couple years ago and that my job was something worth learning more about. Maybe I was just brainwashed at the time or needed to feel better about myself and in a rather evil way, the way to cope it with was to tell kids younger than me that my job was worth it and they should talk with more people about it to get to where I was. If you're a long term subscriber of my Youtube channel, you very well know that I still stand by that IB is one of the best starts to a career but whether or not constantly encouraging those that are pursuing it is the most ethical thing is up for debate.
The most recent exposure to networking that I have (outside of when I was trying to get a grasp of what other occupations existed outside of investment banking during my transition period) is through casual conversation with other "real adults" that I meet through social events or randomly at a bar. It's weird to think that I'm already at the age and point in life that socializing is no longer just limited to socializing, but there's an undertone that is heavily tied to careers and occupations. Conversations typically begin with "what do you do" and most continue to progress based on that answer. It's far more exciting, at least personally, when you meet someone completely outside of your field (I'd rather hear that you're a chef or a theater technician over "consulting" - no offense to my countless consulting friends). However, there's a separate feeling of "I could perhaps use this opportunity to expand my professional network or future opportunities" if the person is remotely related to what you're doing. Maybe this only applies to people like me because I've subscribed to this mentality for so long, but my point in this article (and maybe in an attempt to "forgive myself" for being somewhat of a snake) is that this is rather okay, and if anything it's how this society always has and always will function.
One of the punchlines that I always fall back on is that all jobs and businesses at the end of the day are about "people." No matter the field you're in, I'm a firm believer that the best person for the job is always the person who is the best person for the job. Fully understanding the corny aspect of the statement, I don't think there's many jobs out there that require utmost specialization or decades of technical acumen. In fact, most jobs and companies have their own methodologies for doing whatever they do and as long as you know how to send an email, everything can be taught on the job. Networking allows you to break the most important (and perhaps the only true barrier) for landing a job or breaking into an industry - to learn about what type of person has that job now and what type of person you must become to get that job.
I could very well be projecting and having an overly optimistic view on the job market. It's also possible that we're heading towards a world where only hard skills matter and you'll soon see this blog being run by AI. But as long as we're in charge (by we I mean humans), I look to side with the power of networking. You can read LinkedIn job posting descriptions all you want, read the countless guides on the various jobs you have no idea about, and get anxious about not knowing what Agile is and not having a PM certificate, but the reality is unless you "put some time on their calendar" to learn what someone literally does and what allows them to be the person for the job, gaining valuable exposure and possible entry into that occupation is hard to achieve. Signing off to hop on a call to pick someone's brain, talk soon.