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How to engineer your personal network

We’ve been talking about networking. (See Please! Stop Networking! and Network, but don’t be a jerk!) I know the idea of talking to strangers puts many of you off. Some of my readers on PBS NewsHour (see the comments section on that linked page) have even suggested networking is unethical, a form of nepotism, and insulting. In this week’s edition, reader Kevin Rose explains how he engineers his personal network. There are a lot of words in this column, but just three short “how-to” tips.

In the September 29, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, an engineer tells how he changes job hunting into friend-making.

Question

I am in the midst of reading Fearless Job Hunting and re-inventing my job search strategy. It has happened a number of times where I would go to a job interview — in a couple of cases out of town — and I heard nothing afterwards. I engineermight write once to check in, but then move on. Now, I can understand no response to a random resume, but lack of courtesy after one or even four interviews is inexcusable. One of my friends says they are afraid of liability, and I say that is pure bunk. Others tell me, “What can you do? That’s just the way it is.”

I am an engineer, so I change things. I don’t just sit idly by and accept things the way they are.

Now I can see that in following your advice that this will be less likely to happen. A company would not dare go radio silent if I interviewed via a personal contact. I will say that being introduced to a potential employer via personal contact has always led to the most satisfying and long-lasting jobs I have had. I will definitely follow your advice.

Nick’s Reply

Disrespect is now built into the HR culture because you and other job hunters are fungible. You’re a commodity. You are “free” because all people are “accessible” to employers. And, because there’s always someone out there better than you, who cares about being polite to you?

But the joke’s on HR, because with four to seven times more job seekers out there than open jobs, HR is still crying there’s a talent shortage. America is awash in unemployed or under-employed talent — people who can ride a fast learning curve. But HR technology can’t suss that out. It’s too buried in job-board databases. Job boards deliver no more than about 10% of hires in aggregate. But it’s easier for employers to spend billions each year on Monster.com, LinkedIn and other job boards, than to go meet people in the professional community that they’d really like to hire. Hell, they could stand outside their door with a sign that entices you to get off your bike and stop in for an interview.

Kevin’s follow-up

talkingI just wanted to let you know that I attended a Rotary Club this evening for the first time. I loved it! Not only were people open about themselves including what they do for a living, but I got a chance to do some networking following your suggestions!

The woman sitting next to me is a paralegal at a company that does forensic engineering — I walk past them on my lunchtime walks just about every day. I said to her, “I would like to hear more about what you do sometime.” That’s all I said and she said, “You will have to come by sometime when we are taking a car apart.”

They analyze cars that crash, and testify in liability cases against manufacturers.

Now I don’t think that company would ever have a job for me, but knowing them will give me some perspective in my own engineering work. Also, I get to know the business community in my town. I wanted to thank you for this inspiration, and it is a lot more fun than Facebook of Linkedin. I also got a free meal, too!

So again, thank you for the nudge. Like I said, my best jobs have come through networking — one time from a friend at church, and my current job is one I found through an old girlfriend (with my wife’s approval). I am hoping to become acquainted with people such that the next time I need to find a job, I will know some people who might point me to an opening, or who may be instrumental in helping me start a business.

This doesn’t stop with Rotary. I recently rejoined my professional organization, ieee.org. But aside from clubs and organizations, I realize there are many, many ways of meeting people and making connections.

Thanks again!

Kevin Rose
Santa Barbara, CA

Nick’s Reply

I promised you three how-to tips about how to engineer your own network. Don’t blink: Go where professionals gather. Ask them about their work. Make friends. Anybody can do this.

How can you use Kevin Rose’s experiences to make networking work for you? Is it really so easy? (Many thanks to Kevin for sharing!)

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5 Comments
  1. My original background is also engineering. Like Kevin, I too like to change things, especially by analyzing a system and determining what needs tweaking to get the desired results. That could mean rewriting lines of code or upgrading chips. (That said, some systems like the Job Hunting system are beyond repair — it needs a completely new motherboard!)

    The one thing I always loved about Engineering (and still hold as a core value) is that it’s based on WHAT you know, not WHO you know. Yet that’s the reverse of how Networking is typically presented.

    And then I moved into the world of Marketing via Product Management. Somehow I always liked convincing people that the Engineering we did was great, esp. on its technical nobody-can-deny merits. Yet I noticed I could not get my message across to everybody with a logical if-then-else format, especially to people in other fields with their valid points of view. So much in Real Life is emotionally driven, and as an Engineer-turned-Marketer I’ve actually learned to like that. (Even rigid techies get swayed by emotion, like the thrill of camping out 3 nights on 5th Avenue for the latest iPhone.)

    What I’ve noticed with the Networking is it’s actually more of an emotional connection built over time. We’re so used to Instant Everything, like adding someone to our Follow list on Twitter, yet can’t connect in a nanosecond at a society meeting or those other scenarios Kevin described. It takes a few visits.

    Networking so many times sounds like, “Make a few connections. Get hired overnight!” When it doesn’t work that way, it’s easy to question it and discard it.

    I still obtain most of my leads using the engineering based competence model. It’s what also attracted me to Nick’s ATH approach, to show above all that I can do the work. That’s the first thing I want people to think about me, that I got the work because I’m competent, not because a buddy owed someone a favor.

    What I am doing differently with the Networking is to go to places with the idea that others have interesting things to say. (In California, one of my personal favorites is wine tastings! The winemaker is interesting. Other guests are interesting.) What’ll be spoken about today? Who will sound interesting?

    And I make it a point to leave that “So what do you do?” question towards the end. If someone uses that as a conversation starter I many times say “Well, I’m here to forget about work for a while, we can get to that later.” Many understand, smile, and that delay builds up mutual curiosity first in who we are and then in what we do. (It’s my alternative to 30-second Elevator Pitches, which I detest.)

    I used to have this Requirement that I could only speak to people who lead me to a job. It made Networking a burden. After hearing many stories that people got to know each other as people and then MAYBE landed work, I’m willing to try it. It can be fun. (Now I need to sample the next red!)

  2. Great suggestions networking that isn’t soulless or insincere.

    Re: job candidates being free, fungible, etc: I love saying “no” to employers who’ve burned a bridge with me. I bet it drives them nuts.

    I just had me employer meet me twice, write and publish the job description almost verbatim based on my CV… Only to post it and ignore me for 2+ weeks.

    It’s still posted and unfilled… And I moved on to two small contracts with other clients since then.

    I can’t wait to say no to them when they get back to me.

  3. @Glenn: I still think that “doing the job” is what can get you the job. But that’s not what usually gets someone’s attention, because most of the time we encounter people in a non-job context where “they came to forget work for a while.” Humans do not always start with the task; we tend to noodle around the edges first. I think we make our best decisions when we approach a task from an angle. Maybe because it’s fun. Red with that?

    @Carl: Yah, there is a great satisfaction in saying, See? You blew it and I haven’t got time for you now. It’s the learning curve employers ride.

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