9 Networking Traps To Avoid (or, Why I Never Joined A Fraternity) | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement 9 Networking Traps To Avoid (or, Why I Never Joined A Fraternity) | Dr. Isaiah Hankel | Focus, Create and Grow Your Way To Intelligent Achievement

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9 Networking Traps To Avoid (or, Why I Never Joined A Fraternity)

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks. Everyone else looks for work.”

Robert Kiyosaki (Founder; Cashflow Technologies, Inc.)

‘No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.

Alice Walker (Pulitzer Prize Winning Author)

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”

Keith Ferrazzi (Author; Never Eat Alone)


Acceptance is a powerful motivator. You can either use it to your advantage or wait until it uses you.

A sophomore at Alpha-Kappa-Who-Cares jammed his finger into my chest and told me to “get off his sidewalk”. I was walking by one of the more popular fraternity houses with a wrestling recruit when two freshman pledges told us to move along quickly. They did not want us drawing attention to the house as a party was going on inside. I politely told the pledges to get lost and kept walking. 10 fraternity brothers suddenly charged from the porch like a baseball team clearing the bench. They surrounded us and made some slurry threats. Three other wrestlers saw what was going on from down the street and ran up to the group. It was a standoff. But nothing happened. A bunch of sweaty people yelled at each other for a few minutes and then everyone backed off.

My senior year of college, I was invited to a frat party by a kid who lived on my hall freshman year. I decided to go because it was going to be one of the last times I would see him and because it was supposed to be an exclusive party—the kind everyone was invited to. The frats on campus were always having exclusively nonexclusive parties. I showed up to the frat house, walked downstairs, and within 5 minutes was told to leave because one of the other frat brothers didn’t like me. I found out later that this was a standing rule in frat houses—if any brother doesn’t like you for whatever reason, he can throw you out and the other brothers have to support him. I was baffled by the thought that someone didn’t like me but accepted it and walked out of the house with 5 mouth breathers behind me making sure I left. I remember feeling massively stupid and embarrassed, which I did my best to cover up by acting relaxed and like I wanted to leave. I also remember wishing, very briefly, that I would have joined a fraternity my freshman year.

Sleeping With Fish For Acceptance

I never understood why other students joined a fraternity. They’d pay outrageous dues, have to be on-call to older brothers 24/7, and get treated like dirt. I heard about one group of pledges having to eat jars of bugs and then sleep in a box filled with rotting fish. Gross. Why would anyone do this?

The fraternities on campus never had a problem getting freshman pledges because, let’s face it, people innately have a strong desire to belong to something greater than themselves. They want to be accepted. Fraternities are able to take advantage of this by making pledges do whatever they wish with the promise of a greater sense of belonging and acceptance in return. Pledges are promised access to parties where the guy-to-girl ratio is 1-to-10. They’re also promised access to last year’s tests questions and to a list of alums who are now successful in business and can help get jobs.

I joined a fraternity. Well, not exactly… I joined a wrestling team. If I’m really honest with myself, it was like joining a fraternity. We didn’t sleep with fish or anything weird like that but we did do crazy things like workout three times a day, restrict our eating, and sit in hotel bathrooms wearing four layers of clothing with hot water blasting from the shower to create a semi-barely-legal steam room. For me, the biggest difference between joining a wrestling team and a fraternity, was that the majority of wrestlers were driven by achieving their individual goals first and by being accepted by the group second. Everything wrestlers did to gain acceptance by the team—training hard and winning matches—was directly related to those goals. Eating bugs and sleeping with fish, however, is not directly related to getting a good job. It serves only one purpose…the chance to be accepted.

9 Networking Traps To Avoid

A lot of people don’t know who they are. This is because figuring out who you are on your own is not easy. It can take a lifetime. But there are shortcuts. One shortcut is to have local interactions within a larger group. Studies show that the thoughts and actions of individuals can become aligned by these interactions. In fact, these interactions can give individuals a new identity—one that is in line with the overall group. This is what joining a fraternity or other kind of networking group does for you; it helps build layers to your own identity. The group accepts you and as a result, you have a better idea of who you are. This is not always a bad thing. It’s only bad if the group you join promotes their interests above your own, takes away your individuality, or distracts you from your own goals. Networking is an important part of life, but there are right and wrong ways to do this. The key is to avoid networking in ways or with groups that will ultimately hold you back. Here are 9 things to guard yourself against when networking:

1. Joining a group with a bad message. 

The first thing you should ask yourself before joining any group is, “What do they stand for?” What is their message? What is their mission? Do they even have one? A lot of networking groups have very vague goals. They will declare their mission is to “connect people” or to “help you achieve greatness.” Okay…what kind of people? …Greatness in what? Other groups will have a specific message but the message will be different from your own beliefs. Nevertheless, part of you will still want to join the group because of the exclusivity or the sense of belonging. Do not be so easily seduced. If the message is vague or different from your own beliefs, do not join.

2. Networking with your competitors.

I work with a lot of scientists who are in the process of getting their first job outside of academia. The majority of these people have been in school for over 20 years and have no idea how to start a career in business, so they begin networking. When people are uncertain, however, they naturally default to their comfort zone.  They go to the same two networking events for scientists trying to get jobs; like Biologists In Business or The PhD Career Group or similar. The biggest surprise and disappointment comes when someone doesn’t come and offer them a job. Of course it is nearly impossible to get a job at these networking events as everyone is in direct competition. Everyone is seen as a threat. Instead, they should be attending networking events for artists or architects or lawyers or anything outside of their area of expertise. People at these events will be more likely to think, “Wow, a scientist, I’m going to remember this guy and tell him everything I know because he’s not a threat!”

3. Networking with people who have different priorities.

While you want to avoid networking with people with the exact same skillsets, you do want to network with people who share your same priorities. This is what it means to connect with like-minded individuals. If you value entrepreneurship or hard work or charitableness, you should join a networking group that shares these same values. The ideal networking group is one in which your priorities are shared while different skillsets are represented. Having the same principles will keep you on track towards your goals. Having different processes will increase the repertoire of skills you can use to achieve your goals.

4. Networking with people who make you feel like an outcast.

At one time or another in a job, you may have witnessed your direct supervisor favoring other individuals at work. In High School, you may have also been victim to one of your teachers treating you like an unknown when other students seem to be treated with a certain familiarity and enthusiasm. The truth is, it is awful feeling like an outcast. A lot of networking groups will make you feel like this if you are not part of the group. You will be made to feel inferior and that you do not belong. Never join these groups. If they are treat you without respect outside the group, what makes you think they will change their behavior once you are inside the group? Pay attention to how people are treated while you network. 

5. Joining a group just because you’re not a member.

If the only reason you want to join a group is because you are not a member, do not join it. Studies show that acceptance and rejection affect people’s emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and even biological responses. The desire to be accepted, or not rejected, can make people act irrationally, like giving up everything to gain approval from people you don’t even know. Acceptance is a game that can never be won. Instead of chasing acceptance, create your own. Accept yourself. Do not join groups that will change who you are. Join groups that will serve as an extension of who you already are.

6. Joining a group that takes but never gives.

Networking is never free. You have to pay money to go to conferences or fees to join groups or monthly dues to talk with people. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as you’re getting value back. Everything worthwhile in life involves an exchange of some kind. The problem is that some networking groups and events trick you into thinking you are getting value even when you’re not. Acceptance has a funny way of doing that. Protect yourself against this by keeping track of the value you get after you pay, not just before. If you have a networking group of your own, make sure you are consistently adding value to your members, especially for the first 100 days after they join.

7. Joining a group that negatively affects your behavior.

I had a friend in high school who convinced me to do the stupidest things. I was always in trouble when I was with him. He made me lazy, obnoxious, and weak. Alright, he didn’t make me, but for some reason, I felt I had to be this way when we were together. It was only after I stopped being friends with him that I saw the negative effect he was having on me. It’s amazing how much one person can affect your behavior. Now imagine a dozen like-minded people…or even a hundred. The effects can be pretty powerful. Before networking with any group, take stock of how the people in that group are living their day-to-day lives. What do they spend the majority of their time doing? How do they treat people during that time? 

8. Networking without any goals. 

The most important part of networking, as with anything in life, is knowing why you’re doing it. Do you want advice? Do you want a job? If so, what kind? When do you want it? Get specific. This will prevent you from networking or joining exclusive groups just to get a sense of belonging. Once you know what you want, share it. Ask for help. A lot of people go to networking events and join groups and never share what they want. Then they get upset and leave the group because they feel like they are not getting any value. If you joined the right group, the value is there for the taking. Networking is a great way to get what you want but it is important to know what you want first.

9. Networking with a short-term mindset. 

Networking is all about building relationships. Don’t go to an event or join a group with the idea that someone is going to discover or save you. Don’t go expecting someone to solve your problems right away. Networking should not distort reality. You will not automatically become best friends with a member of the group just because you’re in the same place at the same time. The normal laws of human behavior still apply. You’ll still need to find things in common and slowly build trust. Don’t be the one in the room constantly talking about themselves or asking for favors right away or screaming, “look at me!” with your behavior. Instead, have a long-term mindset. Focus on finding a few people who have the same priorities as you but different ways of doing things and make an effort to learn from each other.

Everyone benefits from a bigger network. Remember, however, that this doesn’t mean you should join every network. The key is finding a network that will give you value, and to which you can add value, for a long time to come. Focus on finding groups that will help you achieve your biggest goals and be a better you, not those that will merely distract you in exchange for acceptance.

What’s one networking group you’ve joined in the past? Did you get any value out of joining? 

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