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Shared Experiences: The key to good networking

In the April 10, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader seeks the keys to good networking.

networking

Question

Everyone talks about networking as the best way to find the right job. There must be a key to this approach beyond just going to networking meetings and signing up with one of the online social networks. What advice can you give me about how to do it right?

Nick’s Reply

You may have been to networking events where people spend a minute apiece with you after cycling through several other new “contacts,” and then expect that you will introduce them to your closest business buddies. Such gatherings have gotten a bad reputation because they can be mercenary and impersonal. You’ve met, but have no real common ground, and there’s no value in your new connections because they are ephemeral and because there are no shared experiences between you. (See Please! Stop Networking!)

The online social networks are even more problematic. You sign up, add the names of your co-workers, former employers and friends, and the network links you to other members with similar backgrounds. Everyone is encouraged to dump names into the system, then to collect contacts. But while these networks create lots of connections, there is little emphasis on the quality of those links.

Networking: the quality of the connections

And that’s the key: The quality of connections is in relationships.

From Shared Experiences: The path to success (p. 12)

Don’t squander a good contact because you didn’t cultivate it carefully, personally, and intelligently. No one can afford to waste good contacts. But don’t try to force a contact to produce results all at once. Go slowly, and let the contact blossom for you through shared experiences.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition) 

Social networks like LinkedIn suggest that quality of contacts is important, but the mechanics of how that network operates reveal that having lots of contacts is more important to LinkedIn than having good contacts or in doing things with the people you meet.

That’s why LinkedIn (and other networks, like Facebook or Twitter) help you highlight your number of links. Why? Because the networks themselves profit mainly from their size. It’s an inherent contradiction and even a conflict of interest.

But the people who actually benefit from online social networks are the same people who know how to turn a first meeting into a healthy, long-term relationship. They know it requires a considerable investment; there’s nothing automated about it. Nor is there anything phony.

Quality Networking: Common ground

I think good networking has three key ingredients. First, it requires common ground. People must have something to share that is useful to others. The best place to start is with your work. Identify people who do the work you do (or want to do), then e-mail them, call them, meet them and talk shop with them. (Not about jobs.)

Quality Networking: Value

Second, good networking is sustained by value. What can you do to either help or genuinely engage another person? How about a tip that will enable her to be more productive? Or you can ask honest, sincere questions about the work she does, to educate yourself and to draw her out. That creates more common ground. And that requires an honest, willing investment. If you’re not truly interested in someone, leave them alone.

Quality Networking: Sharing time

Third, good networking takes time. Trust grows between people through repeated good experiences. Sharing takes time.

From Shared Experiences: The path to success (p. 13)

Be likeable: Talk shop. When you talk to people about the work they do, they perceive you as likeable because you exhibit interest in them. It’s a basic human reaction. Talking shop with people makes them remember you positively. When you meet again to talk about a job, you’re the likeable candidate. And, right or wrong, people recommend who they like, and managers tend to hire people they like.

Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3: Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition) 

Once I trust you, I’ll draw you into my circle of friends—and that’s where valuable job referrals come from. Lazy, self-centered people have lousy networks and scant, weak relationships, and they’re the first to complain that networking is icky and that networking is phony. “Besides, who has time?” (See Networking For Introverts: How to say it.)

The best way to become well-connected is to meet and stay in touch with people who do the work you’re interested in and who are good at what they do. Don’t go to them when you’re job hunting. Go to them to share experiences that are meaningful to you both. Establish the kinds of relationships—and a reputation—that makes people want to come to you when they learn about a great job.

Friends share experiences

In a nutshell, I think networking is really about making friends. It’s about doing stuff together.

It’s got virtually nothing to do with getting a job or with any other kind of “payoff.” You do it because it makes life and work more enjoyable—and because giving something back makes your professional community (and the world) a better place. And when you live in a better place, somehow your life becomes better, too.

What’s your experience with networking? What are the keys? What do you look for in a healthy professional connection or relationship? What makes you want to refer someone for a job?

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30 Comments
  1. All good suggestions, but you missed one. That is, use networking to show you can do the job. Don’t just chat with people (and I agree real life is best) but join an organization with the kind of people you want to meet, volunteer for a job, and do the work.
    Many organizations are very egalitarian in that an entry level person who becomes valuable gets to be on a first name basis with VPs and such.
    Technical conferences sponsored by organizations like IEEE are usually looking for volunteers, and puts you in contact with leaders of the field – often managers who are looking for new hires.
    Again, you can do the job – not the job they will need you to do at work, but a job that shows you are reliable and competent over a long period. That’s not something they are going to get out of any resume or even phone call.
    The downside is it takes extra time and you have to be smart enough and with it enough to do a good job. But that covers all your readers, right?

    • @Scott: That’s an excellent addition to the list.

  2. Two types of groups people are joining in declining numbers these days but tend to be great ways to network are community service organizations (Rotary, Kiwanis, etc) and religious groups (church, society, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc).

    I did try out a couple of community service groups, and saw right away how valuable contacts could be made. While I didn’t end up joining, my religious group contacts have been most helpful as a way to meet people in general.

    Currently I attend a religious group that meets on Sunday mornings – a congregation of people from all faiths or even no faith, but very much into social justice, the environment, and overall respect for the dignity of every human being.

    A gentleman was visiting the congregation I attend, and I was introducing myself to him when I found out he had just been laid off. He is a software engineer. Two weeks later I saw him again and another gentleman who is also a software engineer who works for another small company. They got to know each other and that may or may not lead to something.

    To give you an idea of what this community is like, I recently suffered a motorcycle accident. (I am OK – just a broken shoulder – a hand surgeon is treating me [hand surgeons work all the way up to the clavicle]). People from my religious organization were eager to help – from making dinner for our family to taking me to the doctor.

    Religious organizations, if you are part of a good one (sadly, many are dysfunctional), are a great way to meet people, make friends, and yes, network. It takes awhile to cultivate relationships in such organizations (full disclosure: I spent 30 years, since I was in high school, as a church organist and choir director – I even have a degree in organ performance along with engineering).

    Everyone can probably find a religious/spiritual organization that suits them, but that still might not be the thing for you – and that’s where service clubs and fraternal groups come in. In the 1950’s I understand that belonging to both religious organizations and service clubs was quite common.

    In this day and age when we need ways of networking more than ever, it seems like these two types of groups are exactly what people need.

    Has anyone else had the positive results to which I’m referring? My contact who started attending my religious group did so, I think, not intending to make job contacts, but my very own religious practice guides me to be helpful to others. Has anyone ever found a job from unexpected sources like these?

    • @Kevin: You’ll love this:

      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/56/the-ministry-of-reference-checks

      Churches and other places of worship are, sadly, overlooked by lots of folks as places almost designed for making friends :-)

      • Just be aware of affinity selling at these type of gatherings. Not to be negative about church groups or anything like that, but there tends to be some sort of fraud that happens when someone can mislead a prospective joiner or member. I have witnessed these incidents several times in the past – I stay from this type of networking.

    • @Kevin: Those are excellent suggestions. I would also add your college alumni association. There are bound to be other alumni who work in the same field you do, or who work in a field into which you wish to break. These alumni might be contemporaries of yours, or they might be older or younger, but it doesn’t matter. The benefit is two-fold. Not only are many alumni willing to talk to a fellow alumnus but may also be more willing to help him. And you get to reconnect with other alumni (you might make a new friend).

    • @Kevin – This is a great insight.

  3. (Notice: The ending is a little tongue-in-cheek)

    I am a member of a professional organization related to my career field and I also volunteer on their leadership team. For their big annual conference, I was asked to co-present awards right before the keynote speaker took the stage. Speaking in front of 800+ people scared the crap outta me, but in my head I told myself to take this opportunity because they specifically asked for *ME*. I was going to be branded and interactive with 800+ industry peers (and hiring managers!).

    Fast forward to the day after that presentation, I was sent a message on LinkedIn from a former hiring manager who just three months earlier had interviewed me “but chose another candidate”, telling me she saw me on stage and wanted to say ‘hi’ but was unable to get to me afterwards, etc., etc.

    You’re d*mn right you saw me… a missed opportunity for you! LOL! In short, don’t just join networks, engage in them and climb their internal ladder. Why? Because it’s also beneficial to STAND OUT among the masses. It gives you a brand. It can also make you the presenter and make a former (or potential) hiring manager the listener.

    • Why is the ending tongue-in-cheek? She missed out! I’d give her a little attention — you’re “closer” to her now than you’ve ever been!

      More important is your suggestion to not just attend such events, but to volunteer. If not to speak or present, perhaps to work on a committee to select speakers, or to help organize the event. It’s a GREAT way to find yourself closer to the center of attention. (Nice work!)

  4. I think that making friends is a lost art. Once we aren’t children anymore, we are afraid to ask the age-old question of “will you be friends with me?” Whenever I encourage people to go out and meet others that have the same career focus/interests/etc. to “network” I typically get the same few types of responses. They A) are nervous talking to others, B) they don’t like talking about themselves, C) they don’t have time, or D) they don’t know where to go to do it. I think the most common age groups I work with are 40-60 so I’m not talking about “kids these days that cannot interact with people in person because of technology.”

    Thank you Nick, for dispensing what should be basic logic.

    • I agree this problem spans generations but…

      This will not go over well with some (because I really don’t see much difference between one young generation to the next — they all seem to go through the same stuff!), but I consistently see a failure of young people to learn how to make new friends. I put this on social media and all the devices that allow them to beg off the task of stepping up to people to say HI in person.

      The people you meet online and virtually can be nice buddies — but there seems to be a tendency to rationalize “why I’ll e-mail, or text” rather than call or meet someone face to face.

      I see it every day when I try to coach younger workers. They have umpteen reasons why “it’s better” to send a text or e-mail.

      It’s not.

      • I agree that it is a problem that is getting worse over time. People used to have to interact to “make friends” then became fearful of rejection/lost to the idea of their own self worth so stopped trying to interact. Nowadays there was never a reason to interact in person in the first place. That said, I do see value to online communities; unfortunately, it’s just a shadow of what a real community could offer.

        I suppose the question becomes: Is superficial interaction better than no interaction at all?

        I need to collect more data points. This has given me something interesting to think on.

        • Get away from that computer! Get away from that smartphone! Get up, go, and be around people. Visit a friend. Go to a concert, museum, or movie. Join a club. Shake hands with people. Develop relationships. Need information? Go to a library. Ask the reference librarian a question. He or she might surprise you. Sure, they might do a Google search, but librarians are masters at that in ways you and I are not. Librarians also have access to other electronic and non-electronic resources. Note that not all information is digitized nor available on Google. Libraries have subscriptions to databases that would be cost prohibitive for an individual. In the meantime, you get to know other people. Full disclosure: My wife is a librarian. I met her at a church where I was the organist and choir director. We celebrate 18 years together this year. Need I say more? (I have degrees in both engineering and music.)

    • I agree, but there are on-line communities where you kind of know the other people. I connected a person in the one I hang out at with a hiring manager and he got a job, even though we never have met face to face. On-line communities can extend your reach, especially for jobs where the hiring is done nationally not locally.

  5. Give, give, give. Share leads and articles about job searching. Think of others. Develop a reputation as someone who helps.

  6. I’m reminded of a description of the worst sort of networking event: Two hundred unemployed people handing each other business cards.

    • I do pro bono presentations to a couple of local career groups. The first thing I ask them is, What are you all doing hanging out with unemployed people looking for work?

      Go hang out with people who have jobs.

  7. Great article, Nick – it’s a reminder that networking is not an event, but rather a process. In fact, I’d go beyond that and say that people who are the most successful networkers make it a “way of life,” continuously being curious, asking questions, and taking advantage of opps to show up, help others and get involved. It’s about planting seeds with the hope that something will sprout and while that doesn’t always happen, sometimes it’s just about being patient and continuing to tend to the relationship. Thanks, Nick!

    • #Dawn: “networking is not an event”

      Sounds like the title of a book, eh? :-)

      Thanks for your kind words, but more for that succinct summary!

  8. I do my networking at my current job. I lead IT projects, and I identify the people I want to work with on future projects, either at my current job or at another company. Since I’m in IT, people tend to move around a lot (I live near Research Triangle Park, there are lots of companies nearby). I always send a personal update to people at least once a year and sometimes more. And when I ask people for info about a position, they send me leads at their company or another company. Sometimes I recommend them for positions at my company when they are looking, and I do that because I’ve already worked with them and want to do it again. There’s no mystery to networking.

  9. Great topic. Advice to Network, to find your sought for job is a mantra with minimal advice as to how to go about it, and very sparse on the WHY very misleading. Plus the emphasis is almost always on finding a job…now!

    Networking is a door that swings two ways, giving and getting. Where timing and patience is very important.

    Hick is hitting on the rarely discussed. As to why network? For what purpose?. And the key building blocks.

    I’m a tenth degree black belt introvert. And there’s plenty of us around. When you 1st hear about networking the idea of “working a room” comes immediately to mind…and it’s a major turnoff. I’ve both tried it with stunning dislike and consequently failure, and been in rooms being worked.the workee so to speak. While empathetic, No, ….. I’m Not going to connect you to a mutually respected contact in XYZ company because it violates one of the key networking building blocks, Nick noted….trust. Good networkers value trust. I have to know you, to connect you to someone I know & trust. This takes time and patience from both parties.

    I’ve also lost jobs. And been a job hunter, an older and older job hunter, where networks are of major importance. When I lost my 1st major job after years of employment, I had an epiphany, I was a networking sinner. Met and knew a lot of people over the years but failed to construct a true network. Such as keeping a good record(s) on contact information…and keeping in touch with people who I respected. Small consolation knowing nor did they. That’s when I started blocking and tackling to put some life into networking and changing my ways. By reaching out and mostly backwards, into my work history. Or focusing on work. Fortunately most people do want to help & it wasn’t as hard as it sounds, but it takes time.

    Everyone has a network(s), usually right in front of you, all around you. Where you work. Look at where you work as more than an employer, but as a base of operations for network building. It’s a great place to start, where even we introverts can operate in comfort. You don’t work a room, you work a familiar company, and from the base expand into your industry or profession. One’s work environment meets all of Nicks criteria. This can self expand, as people in your network, move on into other companies and/or industries.

    At work, as a Manager, when I realized someone I wanted to hire wasn’t going to buy into my organization, I’ve walked down a hallway, sought out a peer manager and told him/her that “You need to hire this person”, and why. As a Manager I’ve respected the recommendations of others, by talking to their referrals. I didn’t say I always hired them, but offered some of my time to them and their referrals.

    You can offer something as easy as visibility to peers, subordinates, bosses, and strangers referred by others. By that I mean including them in meetings that can help their career, broker introductions, and the like. And people have done that for me.

    I’ve had a co-worker walk my paper in another company after we were both laid off. He landed after which he then helped me land.

    Moral support isn’t meaningless. After being laid off I’ve had a former boss invite me to lunch, just to let me know I wasn’t forgotten and can count on her for referrals and references. With the very nice touch of positioning me to avoid having to try & chase her down.

    AS an agency recruiter, against advise of a #’s driven boss, I’ve connected job hunters to potential hiring managers…gratis. Why? because in my view good recruiting/headhunting is best conducted as a long term sales model, where relationship building pays off. Conversely I’ve had many candidates refer candidates and clients back to me just because I tried to help them out.

    I think both sides of the job hunting dialogue fail to understand, 2 things are going on..in parallel, the usual job hunting/candidate hunting dance….AND the opportunity to network. For example, after failure to gain an offer(s). but leaving with a very good understanding of a company, organization, hiring manager, I’ve connected said hiring manager and other job hunters I believe to be good contenders. Or referred people to recruiters I know they’d be interested in knowing.

    I send articles, recommend books, pass along helpful tips and information to others which may or I know will, be helpful. For example after a discussion with a newbie recruiter where I clearly wasn’t a fit, I gave her a good tutorial on software quality assurance, testing and tips on how to recognize good contenders.

    Notice none of the aforementioned are at the spectacular level. But if you giving in your daily life consistently, you’ll find they are the things that glue a network together. And a quality network will over time, get you what you gave A good network is comprised of people who like to network who give & get.

    As you polish up your network, very conveniently at your workplace, via referrals you can grow outside in the same manner…so it will be there, when you need it, and you will be there, if needed.

    Sorry of the length. A favorite topic.

    • @Don: If more headhunters and recruiters followed your lead on this, they’d be far more successful. I’m sure I’ve helped “place” far more people than I’ve ever been paid for directly. The best kinds of compensation in this line of work are indirect and wonderfully circuitous.

      What you describe, Don, is true networking.

      “AS an agency recruiter, against advise of a #’s driven boss, I’ve connected job hunters to potential hiring managers…gratis. Why? because in my view good recruiting/headhunting is best conducted as a long term sales model, where relationship building pays off. Conversely I’ve had many candidates refer candidates and clients back to me just because I tried to help them out.”

  10. When I was in college, I attended a few networking events. Unfortunately, I was an anxious, introverted accounting student so I didn’t have the nerve to do much more than stand there and watch everyone else. I only went to a few because they seemed like a waste of time compared to studying accounting and getting good grades. Fast forward a few years, I finally came to terms with the idea that I had value and I would never get anywhere without talking to people.

    This really paid off when my wife got a job in a small town 50 miles away. I left my job and followed leaving me unemployed. We were in a farming community so my first stop was the local farmer’s market. I walked from booth to booth asking if they needed an extra hand around the farm for the summer until one told me “yes.” The pay was better than what I had been making in the town I had been living in while going to college. Eventually, the business relationship turned into a friendship. The farmer provided me with a place to stay in exchange for my labor and patiently taught me about farming. While helping at the Farmer’s Market, I met the rest of the farming community and gained more friends and expanded my “network” further.

    A bit different kind of networking than you are all taking about but the confidence I gained from that experience helped me have the guts to move on to bigger and better things plus I learned a lot of useful life skills like minor carpentry and how to grow my own food.

  11. This is the key quote IMO. “In a nutshell, I think networking is really about making friends.” At the risk of beating my dead horse, it’s about social skills which seem to be held in low regard today. If you don’t have friends in “real life” ,as opposed to on facebook, you’ll have a tough time “networking”. Time to develop that skill.

  12. I attend networking events and so far they haven’t turned out not how I would have liked. I have what from I thought connected with a few people and I reached out to them after an event and not one person has called me back. They were younger than I am but i am outgoing and had to carry the conversation with each of them.

    On another topic has anyone received calls from a company called First Source? I received a few messages and finally picked up the phone and she identified herself as a recruiter and I asked where she received my phone and name from and email and she said LinkedIn. I asked her if they are retained or contingency recruiters and she said a bit of both and to check out their website and get back to her as they reach out to companies on your behalf after you “ brand” yourself and they get paid from the companies should they hire you. I asked her do I have control over which companies you spam with my resume? and she avoided answering and tried to set up a phone appointment instead for me with a senior recruiter. I told her no thank you. She said candidates are not charged a fee. Wow I guess that makes it ok then? ?

    • @Donna: Run. Recruiters do not “reach out to companies on your behalf.”

      https://www.asktheheadhunter.com/headhunters-find-people-not-jobs

      I don’t know a thing about that particular firm, but I know a lot about scammers who hook you with the promise of “an opportunity” and then “explain” it’s going to cost you money to get the interview.

      A real recruiter does not bait you with possibilities. They interview you in depth and then schedule a face to face meeting with their client (or company, if they work directly for the employer).

  13. I agree Nick. Their website is FirstSource Team.com and Kathy Ziquin is the one that contacted me. Even after I told her I am not interested she continues to call me. Now I blocked her from calling me. She keeps sending emails. On their website they post banking jobs. I am not in banking and they talk about transitioning into different industries. Odd. I also see they have sample cover letters and resumes listed as a guide. They are poorly written. I won’t waste my time with them. Others should be aware of these firms out there.

  14. My two primary networks come with shared experiences: The Applied Securities Analysis Course at the University of Wisconsin where 12 students per year manage an endowment account started in 1970 by the Brittingham Foundation’s $500K contribution. My second network is a Professional CFA Institute, http://www.CFAInstitute.org. There the shared experience is the CFA Charter which requires passing three progressively difficult examinations. I was awarded my CFA in Chicago 1980.

    The CFA Institute also has a job board where employers seek highly qualified investment people. The CFA Institute has an advertising presence channel on CNBC, an investment oriented broadcast channel.

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