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Please! Stop Networking!

In the September 15, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader just doesn’t get all the fuss that’s called networking.

Question

I’ve been trying to find a mentor who understands networking better than I do. I just don’t get it. We are not expert in everything, and this is one area where I want to get some help. Can you give me some clarity about networking?

Nick’s Reply

networking

So much has been written and said about networking that networking has become a business, an industry, a racket of enormous proportions. Please! Stop doing what’s sold as “networking,” because it’s phony!

I want to barf every time I hear some silly lecture or read a pandering dissertation about how to network. Networking is not complicated. But networking has become over-defined.

Legit networking is simple: Talk shop with people who do work you want to do.

I’ll give you a few examples of what I mean.

You can meet people to talk shop online, in person, anywhere. If you read something about them in advance, just drop a quick note.

How to Say It
“Hey, I read this article about you and I see you’re working on… I’d love to know what you think about X? How’d you do what was described in the article? What are you reading lately that has influenced your work?”

If you’re talking with the person face to face, it’s even simpler.

How to Say It
“Tell me more about what you do… What kinds of challenges or problems did you encounter while working on that?”

The magic is in asking them to talk about themselves and their work. People love that, as long as you’re not being solicitous. And you won’t be if you just talk shop.

It takes time to make meaningful connections through these exchanges. Be patient. Don’t expect much, don’t expect it quickly, and good things will evolve in time. The best part: No matter what benefits you get or don’t get career-wise, you make new friends!

When you get to the point where you want to talk about your career challenges, here’s the magic sauce: Never ask for job leads. Never.

Instead, ask for advice and insight.

How to Say It
“May I ask your advice? If I wanted to shift over to doing XYZ [as your new job], what kind of advice would you give me? I’d love your insight about what it takes to be successful doing what you do.”

See the difference? Never say anything that feels icky or phony. There’s no begging, no asking for jobs or introductions. Results will come naturally — people will eventually suggest someone else that you should talk to. And that’s what to keep track of — people you’re referred to, who they are, where they work, what they do.

Beware, or I’ll never talk to you again
Then there’s the most important thing. If someone recommends a person that you should talk with, or offers an introduction or referral — always make the contact and do it quickly. Never let a personal referral die on the vine.

If I give you a referral, and I find out you didn’t follow up within 3-4 days, I’ll never do anything for you again. Usually, I’ll tip off the third party to expect a call or e-mail. When the person I’m trying to help doesn’t make that contact, I’ve wasted an introduction and I look bad. I can’t emphasize this enough — it’s the single biggest networking mistake people make. If you want good mentors in your life, do not squander the investment they make in you. (See Mentoring & Getting Mentored.)

Networking should be as easy as talking shop with people who do the work you want to do.

Next week, I’ll share my three ingredients for good, healthy networking. But, right now I’d like to know, What’s your way to get close to others professionally?

I’d love to assemble a list of to-dos, not-to-dos, and basic rules for making friends in the work world. Please post your advice and cautions!

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24 Comments
  1. Nick, another great post – your advice is spot on, and I hope that every recent graduate will read your advice and absorb it. (Especially since I wish I had read it when I was their age.)

    Can’t wait to read your additional advice on good, healthy networking!

    –Neil

  2. In my experience, networking is most crucial to do while you’re still employed. When you have a job or engagement, you’re a peer. When you don’t, you’re a grubby penny-a-million job seeker who everyone cringes as they wait to be dunned for a job.

    Too many people think networking is something you do between jobs; if you wait until that point, you’ve lost.

  3. Nick, just two things I could add to your well done piece:

    1) always follow up with the referring person about the action you’ve taken, i.e., “I called Joe and we will meet over coffee next Wednesday morning, once again thanks for putting us together. I look forward to seeing you again at the next XYZ meeting.”

    2) the best networking is a two-way exchange, always look for ways to return the favor to someone who has been kind enough to refer you to someone in their network. For example, send a link to an important article they may have missed, refer one of your contacts to them, or best of all, send some potential new business their way.

  4. I agree with the article. I heard a talk about networking and the speaker pretty much said what Nick said.

    Make contacts with people, get to know them and what they do, and keep in contact with them.

    Networking is an ongoing process, not a one and done deal.

  5. Nick,

    Good post and spot on. I was in job search during 2009-2010 and everyone raved about networking. After networking at various job search events I found it lacking in traction. So I got involved with professional associations related to my field and was networking with employed folks. Still am involved with various associations to this day and highly recommend it. Thanks

  6. Volunteer at professional associations. Do this regularly.

  7. What you say is common sense. I have acquired jobs in many ways – headhunters, answering ads (including monster.com and its ilk), classified ads in the newspaper (remember newspapers?), and personal contacts. The jobs where I have been most successful are those where I was introduced by someone I knew. In one case, it was the golfing buddy of a guy I knew from church. In my current position, I was referred by a long-time friend, and to date, it is the longest employment I have held in my current field.

  8. Along the lines of what Lucille said, volunteer at things.

    I volunteer once or twice a year to act as a “board member” for MBA students taking a class where they “run” a company and have to make board presentations. I meet other board members and future fellow alumni. Before and after every meeting, people are usually chatting about what they do, how business is going, etc. And since many of us do this repeatedly, chances are you’re going to run into someone more than once.

    And often times, we all end up at a bar for drinks. You can’t buy that type of networking opportunity.

    One other thing is hand out or request business cards. That seems to be a dying habit, but the act creates a physical link between two people. I may chat with you for an hour but if I don’t have a card with your name/number/etc., it might as well have never happened. When you send me that LinkedIn request 2 weeks later, I may have a hard time remembering who you are.

  9. I can reinforce Nick’s point “Beware”. Follow up is such a critically important action it can’t be under-rated. I believe failure to follow up is one of the, if not the #1 reason people’s job and career goals tank. If you can’t follow up on your job search, how can I believe you’ll follow up in doing your job.

    I can give you a real example of Nick’s point. Back in the day I was an expat, who reached the point where I needed to repatriate. Come home. Companies are notoriously bad about helping with this other than pay the physical cost of getting you back.

    Someone I knew very well & who respected me, called me and said he paved the way for a connection to a CEO in the (software/systems) industry. And to give him a call.

    I got wrapped around the axle of something for a couple of days and didn’t get around to it. My friend was not a patient guy, and took no prisoners when expressing himself, In about 3 days he called me again and asked if I’d called his contact. And tore me a new one when I said “not yet”.

    I called and did get to meet the guy. It didn’t gel, but all the connections did.

    Good networking is all about connections and referrals. I do it just as Nick said. I grease the skids, invest some time in laying open a path. I respect my contacts and don’t throw their name around. So when you get a referral from someone you need to understand, part of the referrers credibility is riding along with you. When you don’t follow up, you do a bit of a number on the referrer’s connection. So don’t take it lightly.
    And don’t decide after the door’s been open that you opt out, aren’t interested etc. As Nick said, if you get a referral, follow up.

  10. & per Paul’s comment, forgot to mention, I reported back on my progress to my friend.

    This particular experience I credit as where I learned how to network.

    I’ve referred a # of people over the years, and have had some disappointments due to people who did not follow up and backtracking to cover my tracks. So I don’t knee-jerk referrals. I’m going to want to see some commitment to a search

  11. I agree with volunteering at professional societies. Even better is getting involved in conferences. If you have skills, volunteer to review papers. Write some if your company allows it. But also volunteer for the logistics, especially for volunteer-run conferences like IEEE ones. Not only do you meet people you build up a set of people who know you are trustworthy and can perform.
    Still, don’t limit yourself to those who might hire you. I got a job because my neighbor was friends with an HR guy who worked for a hiring manager who wanted to hire someone exactly like me.

  12. Nick said, “Never ask for job leads. Never.”

    I would add, never, never, never, never.

    The fastest way to shut down networking effectiveness, kill any momentum we had built up, and ruin the process from which job leads naturally flow, is to ask the person we’re talking with if they know of any job openings.

    Trust the process. It works.

  13. FWIW – here’s the guidance from AARP on networking:
    http://www.aarp.org/work/job-hunting/info-05-2009/tips_for_successful_networking.html

    Look familiar? Great stuff as usual Nick!

  14. As Nick said in an article some years ago, “Make friends before you need them”.

    If the only time you call people is when you want something from them, you are not a networker, you’re a leech.

  15. @Don and @Paul: Following up on a referral when someone offers it is key. I could embarrass several people by telling how I stopped helping them because they failed to follow up on valuable referrals I gave them. As Paul note, you shouldn’t just make those calls – you should call your source back and tell them you did it, and thank them again. That will yield more referrals and good will.

    The other most valuable act: VOLUNTEER. Glad it gets repeated so much!

  16. @Matt F Spot on. Unemployment =leprosy

    Networking is indeed talking shop. That’s why we should avoid HR (Hiring Roadblocks).

    As an aside, two years into moderately successfully working for myself, I recently heard back from an HR guy who put me through a seven interview process where no one was hired. He now works for a different firm. I still hold a grudge against him and his older firm. I will ignore him. Payback is a b*tch.

  17. Excellent points, all. I think the main reasons many people have a hard time with networking are because they wait until they’re looking for a job before they reach out, they see it as schmoozing, fake, etc., and for some, they’re simply not as social and are uncomfortable with the idea. The other matter is that the rash of books and articles (and classes) on how to network doesn’t do it justice (and often gets it wrong).

    Re Nick’s comment about making recommendations to someone to call or contact his contacts, then that person doesn’t follow up, I agree. A few years ago, I asked a couple of my contacts if they would mind being contacted by a student who was interested in their profession. They very graciously said yes, so I gave her their names and contact information, and told her to get in touch with them. I also let her know that I told them a little about her, and that they would be expecting an email from her. Time went by, and one of them mentioned to me that he never heard from her. I was embarrassed and more than a little put out. I didn’t have to extend myself, or offer to make the introductions, to her. I did it because I know how hard it is when you lack these kinds of connections yourself. I know that she was a student and busy, but I figured that if she had time for a boyfriend and time to watch YouTube videos, then she had time to contact them (when doing so would have answered some of her career-choice questions!). She admitted that she didn’t, then later said that she’d “lost” their information. I told her that I wasn’t going to do this again because her lack of follow through was disrespectful to them (they’re busy people but yet were willing to be contacted) and to me. If someone does the same for me, unless it is midnight or very late/very early, I contact the person the day I am given his name and information, and then I tell my contact that I called/emailed his boss/former colleague, etc. and thank both for their time! Yikes.

  18. Hey Nick, this Michael guy is plagiarizing you: https://www.linkedin.com/grp/post/3767969-6024383789201965059

  19. @Larry: Thanks for the heads up. Schumacher is an SVP with Lee Hecht Harrison, a major outplacement firm. What a direct ripoff and how cheesy. I’ll be in touch with his CEO. My lawyer loves guys like this.

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