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Adam Grant’s Secrets to Successful Networking

By Avery Blank

AVERY BLANK uses her legal training as a consultant and is a nationally recognized women’s advocate. This article originally appeared online at

Before networking with someone, have you asked yourself, “What can I get from this individual?” Adam Grant is the youngest tenured and one of the most highly rated professors at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Based on his research, which includes prosocial helping and giving behaviors, he believes that approaching networking with the mindset of “what can I get?” is not an effective way to network.

Giving and receiving a gift.

Giving and receiving a gift.

Giving is effective

In his recent New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Grant maintains that you can achieve more by giving to (that is, helping) others rather than taking from others and believes that, “many of the world’s greatest networkers have the mindset of giving.” He also points out that “if everyone networks with the mindset of ‘what can I get?’, then no one gets anything.”

Grant says that helping others while networking makes others want to help, helps you build a good reputation, and can help women navigate the double bind that gender expectations impose on them. When you go out of your way to help people, they are motivated out of gratitude to pay it forward. As you continue to go out of your way to help others, you earn the reputation of a generous person.

“This translates into broader, more useful relationships,” says Grant. He also speculates that approaching networking by trying to help others allows women to negotiate a double bind that they face: women are expected to be warm, but not assertive. If women approach networking by trying to make connections with others, they are being both warm (by being helpful) and assertive (by making the connections) without rubbing some people the wrong way.

You can be helpful to anyone

Can you offer help when you are networking with someone older, more experienced, or with a different background? Grant thinks that you can be helpful to anyone. He explains that if you approach an individual and are “in need of something this person can contribute,” you are receiving (not taking) and that “receiving is a contribution in and of itself.” Grant underscores the importance of telling this person how they contributed and that their contribution had value to you. You can also pay it forward and pass the knowledge along to others. Finally, Grant says that if you feel as though you cannot help someone older or more experienced, you can offer to be of help to their children who may be closer to your age (you could offer advice on, for example, college study abroad programs).

Giving without being taken advantage of

You might be asking yourself, “If I am a giver or being helpful to everyone, am I going to be taken advantage of?” Grant says there are ways to protect yourself from being exploited or ruining your networking relationships. He advises that you clarify the context in which you are trying to help. He suggests saying something like the following: “I just met this person. I cannot vouch for their character, but it sounds like someone you would be interested in meeting.”

In addition, Grant recommends seeking feedback on the introductions you have made. Intros, an application created by entrepreneur Robyn Scott, tracks your introductions and allows you to receive feedback on them to help you make more and more powerful introductions in the future.

The benefits of giving apply to more than just networking. In Give and Take, Grant explores through research and stories various contexts in which givers succeed.

Watch Adam Grant’s full Office Hours to learn more about his book, prosocial helping and giving behaviors, work motivation, meaningful work, burnout, and leadership!