What's the biggest predictor of career success? Nope, it's not smarts or grit. It's a large, diverse network. Research shows that, when it comes to getting ahead, connections really are key.

Which is great news for natural networkers who are energized by large gatherings and unembarrassed by the sometimes transactional nature of meeting people in a professional context. But as we all know, not everyone is like that. Some folks find the whole concept of networking, well, a little gross.

Are these more reluctant networkers doomed to career stagnation and professional isolation? Not according to new research out of European business school INSEAD. The study of 100 recently promoted (and therefore at least currently successful) professionals looked to determine how they approached networking and how this affected their performance.

The 3 types of networkers

According to the research team, It turns out the world is populated by three broad types of networkers:

  1. Players. These are the traditionally savvy networkers we all picture when we imagine a successful schmoozer. "Players genuinely enjoy meeting people and are strategic in their approach, thinking several moves ahead and creating contacts well before they are needed. In general, Players are socially hyperactive, attending office events, seminars, talks, dinners, etc.; actively branching out in a way that helps them to become "brokers" in the firm, promoting the cross-flow of ideas (as well as raising their own visibility)," write the researchers on Knowledge at INSEAD.
  2. Moderates. Not completely averse to networking, moderates nonetheless are a lot more restrained than outgoing players. "The biggest cluster of executives in our study were the Moderates," report the researchers. There are "individuals who appreciate networking but are wary of its power. Moderates' relationship-building tends to emerge from ongoing tasks and joint work experience, with contacts maintained once a given job is over. They seek opportunities to exploit useful relationships but are less likely to ask for targeted favors such as 'recommend me to partner X' or 'get me on project Y'."
  3. Purists. The real networking-phobes of the study, purists "find the whole networking process arduous and less important for their career objectives, which are focused on developing expertise and making an impact on their industry as a professional rather than climbing the partnership ladder." They often meet people in the course of their work but fail to maintain these ties after the joint project ends.

Tips for purists and players.

Of course, it's handy to know that there are a variety of networking styles in the world, but the researchers wanted to take things a step further - not just labeling folks, but also helping them succeed whatever their inclinations towards networking. And surprisingly, it wasn't just Purists who could use a little bit of a networking tuneup. 

"Our research gave us a taste of the overwhelming sense of resentment brewing in the minds of many professionals about the exploits of Players. And, while there is an element of sour grapes towards movers and shakers who indulge in self-promotion, there is the legitimate concern that Players too easily subscribe to the worst of Machiavelli's school of tactics, and focus first and foremost on their self-preservation and not the firm's broader good," they caution.

If you see yourself as a master networker of this type, some self-reflection might be in order. Before engaging a connection, the team suggests players ask themselves, "Are they really helping the firm? What are their motives? And how will their actions be perceived?"

Purists, for their part, should be actively encouraged by their managers to grow their networks, the researchers concluded. But they can also make their own peace with networking by recasting the activity as an effort to "add value to the people around you, to offer to help others before you need it yourself. Reframing networking in this more altruistic light may better fit with the sensibilities and values of Purist professionals."

Which type of networker are you?