Question

make new contacts“The best way to land a new job is to make new contacts. Hang out with people who do the work you want to do.” Nick, you often write that and it makes me misty for the days when that was possible. [See last week’s column.]

Even before Covid, “hanging out” with people was getting more and more difficult. After-work hangouts – maybe in big cities or company towns — are just gone! In suburban metro Boston, that seems un-pin-downable! Again, even before Covid, it seems like a lot of people with serious commutes were more focused on getting home than hanging out after work, especially as they got married and had kids.

The internet does offer some possibilities to meet people and “hang out” with them virtually, but it seems like the internet killed off a lot, too!

I often wish you and your readers would talk about how they make that happen — make new contacts that might lead us to good jobs. How do you “hang out with people” these days?

Nick’s Reply

NOTE: We all know that other people are our main source of introductions and personal referrals to new jobs and work. The purpose of this week’s Q&A is to poll everyone for your ideas about how to make new contacts in a time when the pandemic has made it more difficult to meet people easily. I’ll offer this reader a few tips, and I suspect you can share even better ways of “hanging out” to make new contacts nowadays.

That’s a good question. Virtual gatherings are not as useful (or fun) as doing it in person. The virus has made socializing and meeting new people more difficult. The professional events and gatherings that served us well are curtailed. I wish I could wave a magic wand and get us all out in the real world to hang out! The internet and social media have not been an adequate substitute for having a glass of wine or a beer with people.

More ways to make new contacts

So that really forces us to consider how we can connect. During this iffy phase of the pandemic, meeting in person might be limited to outdoors, but you may still be able to pull it off. I sometimes round up a few business friends for lunch or breakfast in a safe outdoor setting, and suggest they each bring a friend, co-worker or boss — or a vendor or consultant they like. There’s no agenda. We just hang out and talk. We avoid asking about open jobs. We talk about our work and other interests.

Another way to trigger hanging out is to reconnect with people you worked with years ago but haven’t seen. Meet somewhere you all feel comfortable. The agenda can be to catch up on one another’s work, and perhaps to serve as a sounding board for one another to get a different perspective. I have two old work buddies that I go on hour-long hikes with. We each bring up a work problem we’re facing and discuss it. It’s amazing how someone outside your own field can help you see new solutions. (Learn why shared experiences are the key to good networking.) These two have introduced me to their own business buddies that I’ve met at outdoor cafes. (Not everybody likes to hike!)

Online ways to make new contacts

Does your business or field have any good online discussion forums where people talk shop? Do you belong to an association that meets via Zoom? Search Google for your type of work plus Zoom to see what you can turn up. You have to be creative and put a bit of effort into it.

If you’re in a trade or other profession (as opposed to working in an office), talk to your sources of supplies or services. Ask them who they think are the best in your line of work. Get introduced. Get in touch. If you’re not sure how to start a discussion, ask the person how they’ve handled a problem you’ve faced on the job — and say your supplier gave you their name. Offer to return the favor of their advice. You’ve made a new buddy.

Hang out on the phone

Sometimes the phone is best. About once a year I make a point of e-mailing past clients I haven’t seen or heard from in a long time. I rekindle things by suggesting we catch up by phone. These calls can go an hour! I make no sales pitches; I keep it social but professional. I always ask who they’ve met in the past year that impressed them, and that sometimes leads to introductions.

Humans are very social animals. We’re also lazy! There are ways to connect if it’s important to us, though it make take a special effort. I think it’s always worth it!

How do you meet new people and make new contacts that might lead to a job? Is hanging out with people who do the work you’d like to do still possible? Other than in-person, online or one the phone, how can we make the personal connections that open up new work opportunities? I’m sure you’ve got better ideas than mine!

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28 Comments
  1. I have a number of ideas to hang out – or rather, to meet people. Some might be “old fashioned” – but they have worked for me. It has helped me build a social network, and also been a vehicle to find a new job:

    (1) Professional organizations and trade shows: Professional associations for a given specialty such as engineering, accounting, nursing, etc. Trade shows and workshops such as for manufacturing/automation, electronics, cars, funeral directors – you can really see what is going on in a particular industry.

    (2) Religious organizations – don’t worry, if you are not religious, there are such organizations for you (disclaimer: I am a veteran church organist in addition to being an engineer with degrees in both fields). A church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or meetinghouse is a great place to meet people when you are new in a city – if you are NOT religious, try a Unitarian Universalist congregation or a humanist group (social justice is important to these groups). Christianity ranges from highly liberal urban churches (like Episcopal and United Church of Christ) to Evangelical (independent, Baptist, Nazarene, etc). Judaism has various branches. Don’t forget Buddhism, Bahai, or Hinduism. I was a member of a downtown church once and looking for a job – a gentleman’s golfing buddy hired me for my first engineering job after an 8 year hiatus!

    (3) Service clubs: Think Rotary, Kiwanis, Sertoma, Optimist – many of these are still around. There’s also AAUW – American Association of University Women – but I don’t think you have to be a woman to join.

    (4) Old friends: Someone I used to date got me a job at her company (don’t worry, my wife approved). It was a 75% pay raise and a move to a part of the country (obviously where I used to live) where there are better opportunities in the electrical engineering field (a small town in Southern California that is kind of a mini “Silicon Valley”).

    (5) Former coworkers who work elsewhere: Recently, I recommended someone for a job at our company – of course, he had to apply on the ATS (Applicant Tracking System), but I took it from there and fast-tracked him. They gave him an offer – he accepted another one (my company was too slow). I became the human ATS. This was successful even though he didn’t take the job.

    (6) Gyms, fitness clubs, the YMCA, the Sierra Club (our local Sierra Club does Friday night hikes).

    (7) Get away from your computer!!! (OK, you may need to do a virtual “meet-up” for now, but you should still get away from that computer!)

    • You sound like you might have retired in the 20th century. The point of the conversation is what to do during covid, not what used to work and now isn’t available.

      • Oops – sorry – Cancel my previous message. By the way, I am nowhere near retirement. I should have read this more carefully before replying.

    • @Kevin: No worries. There’s room for good suggestions for post-covid. It’s important to understand all kinds of hanging-out methods before we can come up with new ones.

  2. In these times I find connections through vendors to be a very effective way to keep tabs on my industry and cultivate new job opportunities.
    If possible, try to approach a material supplier, salesman, or even contractor that does work for your organization for info about news in your particular field of interest.
    Most likely, this will be over the phone or online but with some patience and persistence, you should be able to get a pipeline going about local contacts and opportunities.

    • @Tony,
      Excellent point with vendors and sales people.
      I work in an industrial Account Manager style position, and I continuously hear of job opportunities, especially now, from employers in dire need of workers, be they mostly skilled trade and/or production workers/grunts.
      I’ve actually been able to help a couple young men in my church find gainful employment this way.
      I assume there’s opportunities for professional/clerical folks using these techniques as well.
      A coffee meet, lunch, or even a discreet phone call to a sales rep or vendor (while not for me personally) can be beneficial.

  3. LinkedIn has its limitations, but as a first step to meeting people real or virtually, it’s great.

    If you reach to people with whom you have something in common – connection, interest, education, past employer… – and work that into the outreach you’ll pique interest and increase the chances of a reply.

    I find that 10-20% of my outreaches result in meaningful followup – exchanges of LI messages, emails, texts, phone calls, etc. – and that some of these can lead to in-person meetings if that’s what we both want. Of the rest, almost all lead at least to establishing a new LI connection, that might be mutually beneficial down the road.

    Especially if someone’s skittish about being in public or meeting face to face, LinkedIn is a great tool to start the “hang out” process.

    • @Dave: While I criticize LinkedIn often, you make an important point. 10%-20% of your outreaches actually work. The mistake many people make with LinkedIn, I think, is that they expect much more. If you set realistic expectations and invest a commensurate amount of time in Linked, it can pay off. If you’re going to spend hours each day with it, you’ll probably get very frustrated.

      At the other end of the spectrum is LinkedIn expert Jason Alba’s advice: Post a good profile of yourself and then walk away. Let others find you.

      Glad you found a way to make it work for you, and thanks for posting!

  4. Go through your “Rolodex” and make a list of connections you want to cultivate. Then reach out to theses folks and suggest meeting up — in person in a safe environment, by phone or zoom. The agenda is as Nick prescribes. That’s what I do but I too long for a return to larger networking events.

  5. One thing I emphatically believe to be cautious about in this day and age (sadly) is coming off with a hard sell and easy mark methodology with a “I’m your friend just because I want something from you” ulterior motives. Or like the religious cults roll. It’s unsettling for the average Joe.
    Also, with the proliferation of (again, sadly) parasitic, mentally imbalanced, and broken individuals, people have their guard up, even in professional, social, and even (sadly) faith based settings.
    I’ve personally had little success with networking, but I see it’s validity more and more today with the impersonal job boards, computer jockeying, and grifters with no skin in the game for the job seekers best interest.

    • Antonio, I agree with your analysis in the context of the current human pulse (mental health).

      I would like to add — the narratives of news outlets on Cybersecurity Breaches of hospitals, large retailers and many more that are not made public, data mining of personal information then sold to 3rd parties, the tech savvy unscrupulous individuals targeting individuals to gain their trust (including LinkedIn) then betray and the constant local news locked in the narratives of an illusory 4th Stimulus payment, random violence within the community, disparagement of the unemployed not accepting work that small businesses are offering along with the false promises of online job boards….

      Creating an individual rapport, in this current paradigm, is the challenge in building trust with human beings. (Most folks prefer to talk about their concerns to their dogs or cats or birds)

      • Some valid concert there, but your last point is spot on. I’m retired, but I watch as my adult kids network now in Covid era, vs pre 2020. Vendors, suppliers are critical go to in their various industries. They stay in touch with HS and tech school buddies. Personally, I actually think NextDoor is possibly a good resource, at least as good as LinkedIn for some sectors. Lots of folks in my community posting job opportunities as well as seeking job opportunities. And we all talk about our fur kids, gardening, etc.

        In my work life, along with my spouse’s, we had many opportunities via volunteer work as sports coaches, Scout leaders and other community efforts, to network on jobs that led to careers. Those volunteer opportunities may have been more scarce the last 18 months but I believe they will come back with time, vaccine and other mitigation measures.

      • @Bernadette: Good point about misuse of personal data online. “Recruitment” scams are widespread. Consider how much personal info we post or deliver to online databases/recruiters, where we have (a) no idea whom we’re dealing with, or (b) how our info will be used. Is that just another recruiter with a real job, or is it a scammer slipping into my e-mail or LinkedIn account?

        You wouldn’t give your info to an unknown telemarketer on the phone. Why would you give your info to a recruiter or website that seems to be offering a job opportunity?

        Please be careful out there, folks. A very personal approach is a key way to avoid getting scammed.

  6. Get vaccinated, go to work, have lunch with coworkers. Make an effort to talk and interact with people. Online work meetings still include smalltalk so make an effort.

  7. My biggest way of connecting is with people I actually work with… especially in the tech industry people move around so much. Especially in large companies (or even mid-sized) you can really get to know a lot of people… and when they move off it naturally expands your network and you don’t even need to do anything! You’ll naturally be able to get connected with their new friends if you connect well enough.

    In my own company, my way is instant messaging… kinda like Microsoft Teams, Slack or the likes.

    • @Jasper: I love it. I never thought about it that way. Staying in touch with people – it offers a natural propagation of MORE contacts as THEY meet new people. Of course, you must stay in touch with them and ask who they’ve met recently.

  8. I was laid off prior to COVID. Things are better after than before. There is such an acute “shortage” of talent lets me game the system and they ignore things like gaps in work history, ect. I was fortunate to have a lot of phone numbers of friends. Since I do not have internet to the home, any “on line” stuff had to be brief, there is only so few free options for coffee shop WiFi . my digital options are limited. I/We keep in touch in the real world with my friends at bricks and mortar places. I play peekaboo with linkedin so only the real recruiters who can put me in front of real human beings will know how to get in touch with me on the landline. Zoom meetings are for imbeciles who have no interpersonal skills in a world where it is more important than ever. Email, zoom, voice mail is a way of saying hello how are you let’s meet at Waxy’s bar and grill on {date}and nothing more,

  9. AS Nick noted, we humans are social beings. Face to face social beings. When you think about it all other means of contact that have evolved are substitutes for that, from shouting across a river to signal flags, phones, Zoom. They’ve been around for a long time, so it’s not like we’re cut off by interruptions e.g. COVID.

    Like the saying goes, is this body block on physically hanging out..a problem or an opportunity?

    “Hanging out”, meetings and the like are best done face to face. If you can’t do that that, do the next best, hang out via a substitute. If you can’t find a place to find people you’d like to meet with, create one. By the same means you’d do to hunt for a job, the same way we recruiters best done, from good sources.

    For example. We all know, love em or hate em, there are online social platforms…the LInkedins, Facebooks, to name 2 that come to mind. Perhaps you loathe them or simply this isn’t your thing. But they can be useful for this purpose.. they are free, they provide the platform, they offer a group function. If your aim is to hang with a professional group, look for professional groups of your liking. Don’t find one? Then create one.

    And start recruiting a membership of like mind. Your own SIG(s) special interest group. Say people in your profession looking for a job. Or professionals who want to hang around others in the profession or sub group of it. Not nuffling bars, but flanges for nuffling bars. There’s no original thought. If you want to meet people with mutual interests & can’t find venues to do so, you can be sure there are plenty others like you with the same aims. When you hit critical mass, then you can team up to arrange meetings and hang out via zoom, Skype or the old fashioned con call. I haven’t done it for years but I think most phone services offer conferencing.

    As mentioned, professional organizations already in place. Their events and meetings have been derailed. They too own platforms, websites etc. Sell them on the ideal of providing the means on their web site to host personal SIGS…(they often have SIGs of their own) .Usually someone in those organizations are charged with membership building, and someone with finding speakers for those meetings they are fond of. Sell them on the idea of micro zoom hangouts on their site.

    How about driving at job hunting head on. I lived & worked in Houston for years which has a superior job hunting network. They gravitated to zoom when they couldn’t meet. Look for them in your area. If you can’t find one, create one.

    There’s one advantage over just meeting f/face. The world’s shrinking. There’s no boundaries that limit your scope. If you’re especially interested in your own locale, that’s just a subset you can focus on. And though it’s hobbled, it doesn’t mean this sub group can’t be create and arrange the old fashioned f/face get together.

    The parallel benefit of doing things e.g. the above is in so doing, you are network building and providing the means for others to do likewise.

  10. Maybe this forum could help “consider how we can connect.” People reading Nick and commenting generally ‘get it’ and see we need to network, but (by policy) that’s not possible here. Is there some way to prevent the ‘LinkedInification’ of Nick’s blog while still facilitating cross communication?

  11. Dear Nick,

    The demise of networking gatherings is an important topic. IMA, Institute of Management Accountants, used to have 4 chapters from New Haven, CT to Westchester, NY. Before COVID-19 they were down to one, and dinner meetings had trouble getting a dozen people.

    In Connecticut, ACG, Association for Corporate Growth, had an in person meeting the first Friday of the month at 7:30AM. Most of the event was a meet and greet. (I would generally nap briefly during the mandatory presentation from 9 to 9:30AM.) 75% of business done in Connecticut involved folks who had met at this meeting.

    I haven’t seen any great Zoom solutions to the networking aspect. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and those of your readers. We do need a solution.

    Regards, Matt

    Matthew R. Bud
    Chairman
    The Financial Executives Networking Group
    32 Gray’s Farm Road
    Weston, CT 06883

    MattBud@TheFENG.org
    (203) 227-8965 Office Phone
    (203) 820-4667 Cell

    The Power of Networking. The Power of Friendships.

  12. Thanks for the follow-up on this, Nick! It is good to see that other people have struggled with finding great people to “hang out with” these days and also to see how people are making it happen! Most appreciated!

    • @Boston: Thank YOU! I should have mentioned in this Q&A column (sorry!) that the Q is a slightly edited version of a comment posted by From Boston in the Aug. 10 column. Great question that I couldn’t stop thinking about until I worked out an A to your Q!

      • My pleasure! And no need to credit me – being able to read all these wonderful folks’ wonderful ideas has been very heartening!

  13. There is one section of LinkedIn which is still a great place to “hang out”. And that is the “Groups”. Unfortunately when LinkedIn gave up on supporting professionals and elevated the “Feed” to prominent position, it deprecated the Groups so much that they are almost impossible to find. But trust me, they are still there. In my field of software development there are still some very active groups that have a very active membership who share ideas and answer questions and even sponsor talks with experts in the field. I never approached these groups as a job seeker. Instead I look to them as a place that I can get involved with other practitioners and discuss topics and meet some really talented people and get myself known in the process.

    Another very good way to network is to do volunteer work for an organization that you believe in. My son’s girlfriend was volunteering at a religiously affiliated service organization for a couple of years and recently got hired to be the regional director of their youth group arm.

    • @R Tanenbaum:

      “I never approached these groups as a job seeker. Instead I look to them as a place that I can get involved with other practitioners and discuss topics and meet some really talented people and get myself known in the process.”

      Same difference — if you’re talking shop, you’re talking about your work. As long as you’re genuinely engaged in the discussion, it’s smart to also keep an eye out for job opportunities and for people that might lead you to them. It’s also a great way to share opportunities with others.

  14. It’s worth noting that anyone using Groups will need to choose the Groups they want to focus on carefully. Look for groups with:
    a relatively large number of members,
    a large number of discussions, and most important
    a high number of posts focused on professional matters rather than service advertising.

  15. Lunch Club at least tries to solve this very real problem (lunchclub.com). Hit or miss to be sure, but like my golf game, a couple of good shots fully makes up for the ruff. Gets a bit old after a while because they haven’t fully worked out their AI to truly match people based on their interests or needs…

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