Networking. Is this the secret sauce?

20 07 2009

I sit on a few different career panels every year and every year, there’s someone who thanks his lucky stars that he knew someone who knew someone who got him a job.  I have a completely different experience with networking and here’s what I think:

Networking is only a fraction of your ability to get a job.  I got my very first internship at Senator Feinstein’s San Francisco Office because my mother happened to know the office manager.  I don’t think I even interviewed, I just showed up for the job on a Monday after my freshman year of college.  Lucky me, right?  Sure… except, I was in way over my head, dozing off during meetings, and wasn’t given real work until all of the more senior interns had left for the summer.  I had no idea what a lucky gig I had and given my poor performance, I was never asked back.

My point is, any time someone you know refers you for a job, it’s their neck on the line. By referring you for a role, the person is saying “Yes, I highly endorse this person–(s)he won’t mess up.”  You want to make it easy for someone to refer you, because you’re AWESOME (and unemployed or looking for new employment).

Here’s what people don’t tell you:  networking is making friends.  It’s what you do when you don’t need a job.  You develop relationships, talk about anything under the sun, talk about work, and get to know each other in a personal setting.  If one day, you are without a job, this person can say, “You have been awesome these past two years.  I think you’d be a great fit for this role.”  Networking is not emailing someone to say, “Hey, we both went to USC.  Can you get me a job?”

People I a) don’t know well, b) haven’t talked to in years, and c) have never had a real conversation with, contact me for jobs all the time.  My response?  Please apply online.  It’s not that I don’t want to help people.  It’s that I don’t know enough about them, and 90% of the time, they have not done their research about the role that’s the right fit for them.

It’s important to network and build relationships, but the relationship is two-fold.  You’re building a relationship with someone that you want to get to know, because they are interesting or experienced.  Someone you want to support if they ever need you.  And someone who can do the same for you.

Moral of the story?  Start making friends and maintaining the relationships whether or not you need a job.  Learn about them, tell them about you, and then see where it takes the both of you.

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5 responses

20 07 2009
briantsui

Very true. Looking forward to more of your wisdom!

20 07 2009
bumscientist

Does this mean you can’t hook me up with a job? Aw shucks.

20 07 2009
steflau

I can’t hook you up, but we can work together to get you noticed! That’s what I’m here for!

23 07 2009
recessionmama

This is sooo true! I wrote something similar at http://www.recessionmama.wordpress.com. I wish more people know this! Networking is making friends, and when someone recommends you for a job, their neck is on the line. I’ve been burned once by someone I recommended who wasn’t a friend. Now, I know better.

26 07 2009
Ikai Lan

I highly recommend Keith Ferrazzi’s book, “Never Eat Alone.” Key points:

– Help people as much as possible. It benefits you for your contacts to be successful.
– … but don’t keep score. Help people for the sake of helping people.
– Networking is not about exchanging contact information. Networking is about building long-term, meaningful relationships with people.

There’s probably a tie-in here to using new forms of social media to maintain an ambient awareness of professional contacts. Obviously, this is not a replacement for genuine relationship building, but it can open up opportunities to keep in touch and reconnect with a much larger number of people that would otherwise fall under your radar. That’s a separate blog post …

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