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Natural Networking: An End to Stupid Networking

In the May 15, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter another novel — I’d argue natural — networking opportunity turns up painlessly.

Question

There’s no question from a reader this week. Just a suggestion and a challenge. Are you ready to play?

networkingAn example of natural networking

We recently discussed Shared Experiences: The key to good networking. Lots of great ideas came up, but what does it mean to have shared experiences?

Networking is not about strained, engineered, icky socializing to find a job when you desperately need it. (See Please! Stop Networking!) Frankly, that’s the stupidest way to network, and everyone should be appalled that any “career expert” is stupid enough to think they can sell that “advice” to desperate job seekers.

Networking should and must be natural. An example is hanging out with people who play board games you like playing.

Playing games together

Yep — I said board games. Monopoly. Settlers of Catan. Trajan. Power Grid. Natural networking is a room full of people sitting elbow to elbow rolling dice. Corporate travel agents, forty-something lawyers, new college grads, entrepreneurs and bankers. Software developers. Journalists.

The other day during breakfast (I do my heavy-duty reading over Cheerios and Raisin Bran Crunch) I was reading The Power of Play by Mark Ellwood in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Halfway through the article I dropped my spoon and ran to my desk to write this column. I’d found another good example of how to network naturally without getting icky.

Ellwood interviewed people while they played games together on scheduled game nights.

Camaraderie with benefits

In his mind-altering article Ellwood recounted the offhand benefits gamers told him about:

  • A programmer met a CEO.
  • A hedge fund manager raised money for charity.
  • A media executive lined up an internship for his niece.
  • A lawyer showed another lawyer how to start a pro bono program at his law firm.
  • A financier landed a new job.
  • A manager got to see how a colleague handles losing.
  • An employer met potential hires from local universities while they all played games together.

They all fell into benefits naturally. During game time there’s no ick, no rehearsed elevator pitches, no resumes, no job seekers pestering you. “There’s an atmosphere of camaraderie,” notes Ellwood. The setting “erases the hierarchies of 9 to 5.”

One of the gamers revealed to Ellwood a natural artifact of playing together:

“You’re sitting around pieces of cardboard, leaning in close, and it all feels a little more intimate.”

Rolling the dice with friends

There can be an end to stupid networking if people get physically close to one another, do something together that’s enjoyable and challenging, and forget about work until it comes up in conversation. But, networking? What’s that? Hey, please pass the dice!

For every stupid “networking event” promoted to job seekers, I think there’s a pleasant gathering untainted by job hunting that coincidentally yields new jobs for some people some of the time while they’re doing something else.

Doing something else seems to be the key. What else do people do that’s enjoyable, social, and mentally liberating enough that it enables people to make new friends — and maybe realize they could work together?

An end to stupid networking?

If we can unlock these events and change how we think about them, we may never need to — urgh! — “network” again!

It’s your turn: What other kinds of gatherings lead naturally to job opportunities for some people some of the time while virtually guaranteeing fun and fellowship all the time?

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14 Comments
  1. I studied abroad in college and ended up minoring in German. I joined a Meet-up group that is associated with a local German school so I could keep up with practicing my language skill. Last year I attended a picnic the group put on and ended up meeting a CIO of a global company (he’s from Germany and his kids attend the school). When he learned I was unemployed, he gave me his business card and told me to send him my resume. He then forwarded it to his VP of Global Customer Support, who replied to the email and told me his secretary would be in contact to schedule a meeting. Although there wasn’t a position available at the time that was a match for my skill set, we had a great meeting and he told me if I found a job posting I was interested in, I could reach out to him about it. I ended up finding a position at another company, but this was a great experience or as they say in German, “Ganz wunderbar!”

    • Great story! Your challenge is to stay in touch with both the CIO and the VP — these are incredibly valuable relationships. They may never “pay off” with a job, but they may, and my bet is they will definitely produce more good introductions for you (and for them, if you do this right) — IF you stay in touch. Wunderbar!

      • Nick:

        I play chess and in my prime 1962-1976 used to be quite good at the game. In the Spring of 1972 I used to play in Washington Square park NYC. I would win about 3/4 of the time.

        During the information interview process I garnered three job offers, non-of which I accepted because I decided to return to University of Wisconsin-Madison to earn a MS in Finance/Economics August 1976. While earning that degree I was a part-time paid Intern at a Madison Insurance Company in their Investment Department.

  2. Your article reminds me of a guy I used to work with from a partner organization. He would host/schedule small get-togethers at a local coffee shop. People from various organizations would show up, there was no agenda, and we could bring our client(s) if we wanted to. I started referring to them as camaraderie meetings. Basically, we’d drink coffee and BS while maybe having a light meal. There was no pressure to talk about work but, when you put a group of people together that care about what they do, work is a favorite topic. It was a great environment to learn more about service-providers in my area so I could comfortably make referrals without the forced element I usually encountered at cross-agency meetings.

    • When I started headhunting in Silicon Valley there was a great company called Tandem Computers. They built redundant computing systems and were considered by engineers one of the prime places to work. Tandem had an outdoor pool on site for the employees. Every Friday afternoon after work they held a beer bash by the pool. Employees were encouraged to invite their friends — mostly engineers who worked at other companies.

      Need I say more?

  3. Of course, this is where the classic Happy Hour and golf outings come in. With shared activities, there’s always the downside that there’s people who don’t enjoy the activity and thus are excluded. There’s also the issue that if you’re doing things you enjoy doing, there’s going to be some like-me bias; that is, you’re more likely to have things in common with them, which Nick points out as a feature but can be a bug if you’re trying to diversity your hiring. The golf course is the classic place to get together, relax, and maybe talk a little shop, but there’s a lot of white men on those links.

    None of that is inherently bad, of course, but my philosophy is that you’re always making trade-offs; the key is to be conscious of the ones you’re making, and make them intentionally. I like the idea of creating or attending shared-activity or interest events to network, and I think most people would benefit from adding a couple of them to their social repertoire. But going a little outside your comfort zone in the activities you choose will pay off in meeting people a little more different than yourself!

  4. A five star post. Great info and so true.

  5. Great column!
    Your college might have an alumni group in your town. If it is active it is a good thing to join. Mine not only was a good place to network, but had interesting activities. If there isn’t any, you can try to organize one. Your college alumni office will be happy to help and provide you with a mailing list of alumni in your area.

  6. I don’t know how this will received by other readers, but I have networked with a lot of different types of people by being in the rooms of recovery/twelve step meetings. We are there for our own reasons to pursue internal changes and seek support from others but it can lead to many genuine friendships and natural networking for all kinds of things including but not limited to employment opportunities. Sometimes it’s just finding a babysitter or somebody who needs a good mechanic or hairdresser or handyman, etc. The new relationships formed with people from all levels of society are available when we relate as equals with no one being above or below anyone else.

  7. Attend BBQ’s and social events you learn alot:
    My husband a Certified Horticulturist had applied to this large wholesale Nursery in BC and had not heard anything until he was at a BBQ and discovered that the owners father had passed away and the family were having to move and shuffle a lot of positions around.
    This news then took the pressure off wondering why they had not returned the call when they said they would after the interview. He called back and they were not in.
    He then received a call apoligizing for the long wait and he was offered the job.
    Has now worked there for over 25 years.

  8. I’ve not sought a job via this means, but surely Toastmasters could be a place to make contacts, especially if you go beyond the club and take part in events at Area, Division and District level. As a Toastmaster, I have run into all sorts of people: lawyers, corporate accountants, electronics techs and IT people, nurses, café owners, office managers, librarians, entrepreneurs, real estate agents, farmers and more. Unless you live in a sparsely-populated area with only a single club, you are almost certain to find one with a meeting time and culture that suits you.

    And, of course, the speaking skills are well worth learning as well.

  9. Volunteering. I just had a one-day intensive career development seminar as a senior graduating from college. So happy that spray and pray resumes on job boards were NOT the focus, Networking was!

    Regularly spending 4-6 hours volunteering at the local food bank, or an organization that stuffs backpacks with school supplies/food for kids is likely going to put you next to people from entirely different life circles, including managers, CEO’s and any staff in between. Even being a chaperone for your kids’ school outing, being a co-leader or helper with your kids at Scouts, or at church. Here in Oregon, SOLV cleans the beaches with volunteers, people help with the dragon boats, or are docents at OMSI or the Art Museum.

    Also, leveraging Linked In to find 2nd level people for informational interviews, following local charities and non-profits to see opportunities for volunteering in your feed, and remember to scope out 1st level connection profiles for other volunteering ideas.

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