Gen Z Networks Differently: Why it Works and Why it Doesn’t

Gen Z is changing the game when it comes to networking, and it’s getting them results, but they’re also missing out on key networking tactics used by their predecessors.

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It shouldn’t be shocking to hear Gen Z is changing the process of some age-old tradition. Every new generation coming into adulthood starts sparking stories about killing the previous way of life, from skinny jeans to Facebook Gen Z has been called out for ruining them, and networking is the newest hot topic. 

Is it really true that Gen Z is “killing” networking, though? As a fellow member of Generation Z and someone who spends a lot of time writing about networking, I wanted to dig deeper. Keep reading to see my perspective and that of other top networkers who are Gen Z and a few who aren’t. 

Does Gen Z actually network? 

You may have heard that Gen Z doesn’t network or that they’re killing networking, and while this may seem true when viewed through a traditional lens, it’s certainly not the case. It’s important to remember that Gen Z has only recently entered the workplace, and the COVID-19 pandemic severely impacted how this generation transitioned from school to the workplace. 

Just because it doesn’t appear like Gen Z is networking, the reality is that they’re just doing it differently—more on that next. 

How Gen Z networks differently.

So now that we’ve covered that, yes, Gen Z is networking, let’s talk about how they’re doing it.

1. They favor digital over in-person events

Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with technology from a very young age, and this is very obvious when looking at how they network. Of everyone I heard from, the first comment was almost always that Gen Z is taking advantage of technology to network. 

Albert Ralph, Tech Journalist at Gadgets Brigade, said, “Gen Z tends to leverage social media and online platforms extensively for professional networking,” and that “this approach usually helps them by being able to build connections quickly.” 

Nikola Baldikov, SEO expert at InBound Blogging, also emphasized this, saying Gen Z professionals differ from others in terms of their high levels of digital knowledge. I’ve noticed that they are much more tech-savvy and utilize their skills in all aspects of their work, including networking.” 

2. They’re ditching paper business cards

Long ago were the days when everyone carried paper business cards and went back to their office to organize them in a rolodex. Younger generations (myself included) have been passing on paper business cards for a long list of reasons. 

Traditional paper cards aren’t environmentally friendly, they can’t be shared digitally, can’t include clickable links to the digital profiles Gen Z prefers to share over a phone number or email, and they feel too formal, which doesn’t work with Gen Z’s networking style. That’s just a short list of the reasons for ditching paper cards I’ve heard from members of Gen Z, but it’s clear that unless you’re in an industry that requires a paper business card, Gen Z doesn’t want it. 

Instead, they opt to exchange details for their digital profiles, which can take the form of a digital business card or, more informally, swapping phone numbers or social media handles. 

Gen Z is ditching paper business cards and switching to digital business card

3. They’re looking globally rather than locally 

Previous generations put emphasis on in-person events, which relegated them to building a local network. In today’s work environment, work is done globally, with a rise in remote work, influencers, and freelancers. It’s essential to have a network that extends beyond a single region, and Gen Z knows that. 

By emphasizing connecting digitally, Gen Z can expand its network geographically in a way previous generations didn’t and weren’t able to. 

4. They put an emphasis on social media 

That digital focus isn’t just for virtual events, Gen Z is highly active on social media, not just to share pictures of that trip they took, but to make connections. 

Stefan Chekanov, Co-Founder and CEO of Brosix, said, “You might not often see them hanging out for a lunch break and casually networking. But you’ll see a threaded conversation on Instagram under someone’s post.”

Sarah Ashley, Copywriter and Creator echoed that sentiment, saying, “We’d also rather DM you on Instagram than ‘book a call’.” 

Photo by Tracy Le Blanc

5. They’re forming less formal relationships 

Older generations often view networking relationships as very formal and professional, but Gen Z is flipping that script and opting for more informal, genuine connections. 

Sarah Ashley, Copywriter and Creator, explains this from her Gen Z perspective: "We're (generally speaking) more fluid in our interactions. We're easy to talk to. Though a bit anxious at times, Gen Z networking is all about personality and authenticity.” Though this can hurt Gen Z as well, Sarah says, “Sometimes, people may not perceive Gen Z professionals as, well, professional.”

Why Gen Z’s networking skills work.

It’s clear Gen Z is doing a lot differently when it comes to networking, but does all of it benefit them? New is not always better, but Gen Z’s networking methods do come with a few advantages. 

1. Authenticity 

Networking is about building long-lasting relationships, and authenticity is key to creating a powerful network. The goal of building connections is to create a circle of people who are willing to share information and support each other professionally, without a genuine and authentic relationship, networking connections might not actually benefit either party. 

Gen Z’s more natural approach to connecting lays the perfect foundation for a network that is willing to go the extra mile and help further their careers, and it’s something that other generations can learn from. Sarah Ashley, Copywriter and Creator, said that “other generations could really lean into personality-driven networking, which is one of the trademarks of the entire Gen Z population. We're all about personality and originality, and we can spot it in others.”

2. Open-mindedness 

One place Gen Z excels is being open-minded. Whether that’s socially, learning new technology, or applying new methodologies, Gen Z isn’t afraid to try new things. And it’s a skill that everyone can benefit from. 

Stefan Chekanov, Co-Founder and CEO of Brosix, said, “Other generations should learn from Gen Z to be open-minded and not only embrace new technologies but actively explore them and find ways to use them for business purposes.”

3. Personal brands 

Everyone has a personal brand, but no generation has put an emphasis on this the way Gen Z has. From social media platforms to personal websites, this generation has worked hard to carefully curate a brand for themselves on every channel. 

Stefan Chekanov, Co-Founder and CEO of Brosix, has seen this first-hand from Gen Z, saying, “they also have a strong presence on social media and the internet as a whole. They have the know-how to position themselves as niche authorities and gain a solid following and customer base.”

Nikola Baldikov, SEO expert at InBoud Blogging, thinks that “older generations can benefit from Gen Z’s innovative methods of personal branding to increase online presence and visibility through the use of various digital platforms. This will certainly provide them with access to a broader audience and more growth opportunities.”

What networking skills does Gen Z need to learn? 

It’s clear that Gen Z has made some positive waves in networking, but not every new method is an improvement. There are a few skills Gen Z could stand to keep from the previous generation. 

1. The art of a phone call 

Research shows that 90% of Gen Z are anxious about having to speak on a phone call. While many people may not see that as a problem with all of the other great ways we have to communicate, phone calls can be key to making a stronger connection, increasing credibility, and feeling more personal than communicating via text, social media, or email. 

Sarah Ashley, Copywriter and Creator said, “I know, talking on the phone or having "quick calls" is super anxiety-inducing. We should probably learn how to master the art of the phone call from elder generations.”

Photo by Daria Pimkina on Unsplash

2. Going beyond the DM 

Making connections through social media has many benefits, but it also means communication is almost exclusively through text. While this can be a great method to form relationships, it can also lack the same emotion and connection that can come from face-to-face interactions. 

This generation has been taught how to do everything digitally; it’s what feels comfortable to us. While this has many benefits (see above), it can also mean we sometimes look to create a digital way to do something, even when that isn’t always the best or only way. 

Stefan Chekanov, Co-founder and CEO of Brosix, explains this point well: “Gen Zs need to admit that digital communication alone is not sufficient in many situations as it may feel impersonal. When Gen Zs master the art of small talk and active listening, they'll be able to open doors that tweets and direct messages can't.”

Networking is an art, not a science, and how you network can be influenced by many things. Clearly networking can be influenced by your generation, but networking also has a gender bias, can differ across industries, and many other factors. The key to networking is to learn the basics like active listening, focus on building relationships over your contacts list, and find what works for you. 

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