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Does the idea of networking with strangers fill you with dread? Not everyone is a natural at this, but there are tried-and-true strategies to get around this business practice. In fact, there are tons of books out there claiming to have top-notch networking secrets that can boost your career.
These books will help you face your fears, cultivate key connections, and master chit-chat and small talk scenarios to get you out of the corner and working the room like a pro. To help you make moves in your career, see our picks of the best networking books that offer fresh and actionable strategies.
Best Overall: How To Win Friends And Influence People
This book is an all-time classic for a reason: Dale Carnegie is empathetic, funny, practical and sobering, all in one book. The title makes it sound like something a sociopath might love, but once you have opened the book, you will soon realize it’s anything but. Carnegie’s advice is based on becoming the type of genuine person that others want to be around — because they add value to other people’s lives. His advice includes things that seem obvious, such as, “Talk to someone about themselves and they will listen for hours,” but once you have read the book you will start acting like someone who has purchased a new car: You will start seeing the things he describes everywhere you look. If you want to become a better friend, mentor, family member, co-worker or boss, this is a quick read you should add to your bookshelf.
Most Straightforward: Never Eat Alone
It’s time to ban the sad desk salad once and for all. Every lunch is an opportunity to meet new people and build relationships with those you already know. The most important thing you can do for your career, author Keith Ferrazzi argues, is staying relevant — and the easiest way to do that is to stay on people’s radar at mealtime. This book also advises leveraging your social media to help make and build connections and checking in with your contacts regularly — and not just when you need a favor. In addition to teaching you how to do this, Ferrazzi also teaches you how to break into the toughest social groups, work conferences to your advantage and move past rejection or setbacks. If you want to become and stay a leader in your field, this is a must-read.
Best Textbook: The 20-Minute Networking Meeting
If you want to scientifically dissect the art and science of networking, this is the place to start. It’s definitely written more like a how-to textbook than a beach read, but it does a terrific job of breaking down the who, what, when, where and how of successful networking. Inside, you will learn the basics of the “invisible job market” that you’ll only have access to by forming connections — and surprisingly, the authors contend that this makes up 70 percent of all jobs. The biggest tactic you will learn is how to deliver the “quick and dirty” version of what you’re looking for and what you can offer, without being slick or off-putting. The authors also walk you through the ins and outs of building an agenda for meetings and maintaining your network throughout your entire career.
Related: The Best Career Books
Most Unique: The No Asshole Rule
If there is one thing that will end your career before it even begins, it’s being a big ol’ jerk. But a mean worker is not just a pain to be around, the authors contend: It also severely impacts everyone in their orbit. If you have the misfortune of being in the regular company of one of these individuals or want to learn how to avoid turning into one yourself, this book is for you. You will learn the best strategies for dealing with different types of bullies, from ignoring them and becoming detached to learning how to work around them, and also become skilled at learning how to tame your own “inner jerk.” The book and its conclusions are backed not only by humorous stories but by powerful research.
Related: The Best Management Books
Best Mythbusting: The Charisma Myth
Contrary to popular belief, people aren’t just born to be good or bad communicators. In fact, Olivia Fox Cabane argues that all you need to become a great one is to develop a mindset and train yourself with techniques to build charisma. Get straightforward tips and specific actions to take to be more present in conversations. Learn how to visualize what you want in order to make it happen. Study the four types of charisma in order to help you understand how to motivate people in different circumstances. Once Cabane points out how charisma comes from building others up instead of building yourself up, networking and connecting with others becomes much easier. If you have never studied charisma before, prepare to be enlightened. It can take your networking skills from mediocre to polished.
Best for Building Relationships: Superconnector
Some people’s idea of networking is attending an endless stream of loud, crowded, frenetic events with hundreds or thousands of people in the same industry all packed into one space. If this is your approach…stop! It is not going to get you anywhere. Instead of a more is more mentality, you need to become a community builder who treasures their personal time. This book will teach you how to build quality relationships and connect the dots that will get you to the next stage of your career. In this book, authors Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh share the stories of several such community builders who have made it to the top of their respective career fields and help you communicate more efficiently and empathetically. The book isn’t career path specific, and can help you no matter what your profession. Each chapter will inspire you to take new risks, as well as providing solid advice on how to do so most effectively.
Related: The Best Negotiation Books
Best Research-Backed: Give and Take
You’ve heard the expression, “nice guys finish last,” but a growing body of research shows that this just isn’t the case. Adam Grant is Wharton Business School’s highest-rated professor, and in this book, he uses his talents to explore the essentials of career success. Why do some people succeed and others fail? This book seeks to answer this timeless question. Counterintuitively, Grant’s research finds that the two groups have something in common: They are very giving individuals. Throughout the book, he explores the conditions under which being a giving person is helpful to the individual and to society, and the conditions under which being too giving causes burnout. If you want to better understand your communication style and grow purposefully in your “givingness,” Grant’s book gives you the tools to do so.
Best for Alternative Strategies: Networking Is Not Working
Networking events that follow a full day of work are exhausting. You are crammed into a sweaty room full of other strangers, desperately trying to shove business cards at one another, all while balancing a beer and your briefcase. Unsurprisingly, such events are not the most successful way to meet new people. Author Derek Coburn proposes a different strategy — and this book provides the roadmap. To effectively build a network, the most important thing you need to learn is how to provide value to your clients and contacts. Once you have figured out what you have to offer, you can start building a network around you rather than trying to dive into a preexisting one. This book has plenty of real-life stories with takeaways you can apply to your own career right away.
There’s a reason why Dale Carnegie's classic is still a bestseller: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (view at Amazon) is as relevant today as it was back in the 1930s. It gets to the heart of human psychology and is one of the most successful self-improvement books of all time. Give it a read to build a strong foundation on how to connect with people, then pick up “Never Eat Alone” (view at Amazon) for some modern strategies for meeting and maintaining relationships in person and online.
Meet the Expert
This roundup was updated by Dawn Papandrea, a freelance writer with two decades of writing experience. She specializes in personal finance and career content.