In my business development position and in our communications agency line of work, networking is key. Getting out and meeting new people opens doors to new opportunities, so it is something we must do (despite what the headline here says). But, networking is not enough. You also have to follow up by demonstrating strong results and success.
The Bay Area (Silicon Valley) is quite small when it comes to networking. Many times after meeting someone, I can find three other ways I am already connected to that person. People move around in their career so the likelihood of crossing paths again is high. Just making a connection at an event is not going to be the reason someone you networked with once reaches out to you when they have an opportunity. It is going to be because they have a good impression of you and have seen what you can deliver. They must also feel confident in your expert abilities.
So, my advice to young professionals is to start networking early, but don't be an empty suit.
In life, it certainly helps to know the right people. But how hard they go to bat for you, how far they stick their necks out for you, depends on what you have to offer. Building a powerful network doesn’t require you to be an expert at networking. It just requires you to be an expert at something.