Networking can be a serious waste of time, particularly if you are at an overly-produced large event or going with the intent of taking rather than giving. Worse, you could be networking to avoid actually, you know, working. Being a good networker requires just as much strategy as your career itself because it actually directly affects your career.
The secret power of networking isn't learning more about your craft, though. It is learning about other people's craft and that actually makes you more insightful, strategic and secure.
I saw this first hand. One of the most difficult years as a journalist was during an awful year for media in general: I had long-time editors who were let go and asking me if I had any leads on journalism jobs. Fortunately, my Silicon Valley network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and techies helped me think outside of the media bubble. Otherwise, it would be the blind leading the blind.
Being genuinely interested in other people, then, is more than just being polite. It is a smart habit to learn more about areas beyond your field.
Lastly, smart networking helps you avoid the dreaded "ask". New York chief digital officer Sree Sreenivasan says, "You should never first contact someone with an ask". By having a diverse, well-fed network on hand, you don't have to develop contacts on the spot when you need them.
The best bet? Build contacts based not on where you are, but where you want to go.