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.