Professional / Vocational Needs

  • The Three Deadly Sins of Networking

    THE THREE DEADLY SINS OF NETWORKING OR “NETWORKING IS NOTWORKING.” — Bumper Sticker

    Recently I was visited by a sales representative who reminded me that we’d met at a social event a week or two previously. Both the sales rep and I knew that, given the nature of my work and the nature of her work, I was not a prospect. We had only seen each other once, and that for only a minute or two. Nevertheless, she asked that I refer anyone to her that I came in contact with who might be a prospect for her. Coward that I am, I smiled and nodded assent, all the while thinking it would be a very cold day in a very warm place before I would refer someone to her.

    What happened between us occurs thousands of times per day across the country, as job hunters make their rounds, “networking” with anyone who will speak to them.

    “I was referred to you by Ralph. Do you know anyone with a job? I need to get a job. Who do you know who is hiring? Do you have a job for me?”

    Anyone who has been propositioned this way can feel that knot in the pit of their stomach growing as they remember desperately trying to find a means of escape from that most awkward of positions in which their otherwise good friend Ralph has put them.

    Networking is a concept based upon the principle that leveraging relationships is an effective way to find employment. “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know,” says the cynic. And the cynic is right! In truth, it is who you know that will help you get the job. What you know will help you keep it!

    However, in our unemployed, underemployed, no-time, me-first culture, the concept of relationship has suffered. Now the people we network with have been reduced to tools to be used in the pursuit of a job. We even have “speed networking” events now. This is brilliantly exemplified in the approach everyone who has been “networked” has heard. “I’m looking for leads and contacts.” Not people, mind you—leads and contacts. Now, this is a bad, or a not-so-bad thing, depending on your personal outlook. One thing is certain, however. People stubbornly persist in running for the hills when it is done to them.

    Why do they run? Perhaps they don’t understand that there’s nothing personal in it. It’s just a process. And, hurry up please, give me some contacts. I’m in a hurry!

    Actually, I believe that they very much do understand that there’s nothing personal in it, and that’s why they run away screaming when you approach them looking for leads. The original principle, you will recall, was to leverage relationships.

    Now, when you approach me saying you’re looking for contacts and leads so you can get a job, it is clear to me that you want to use me to get somewhere. You want to take advantage of my network, which I have worked long and hard to establish. You expect me to put my reputation and a relationship with someone I know and trust on the line for you, whom I don’t know, on the chance that you won’t embarrass me with a friend, co-worker, or boss.

    Excuse me. I am not going to do that.

    I suppose it’s human nature to try to get someone else to do what you don’t want to do. Generally speaking, people hate job hunting so much that they’ll hand off responsibility for their job search to anyone who looks like they might take it. Most people seem to use networking as a way of making their search someone else’s problem.

    The following three sins have done more to destroy job searches (and friendships) than almost anything else you can imagine:

    SIN #1: If you cause people to go out of their way they will not help you.

    It’s Saturday and you are leisurely driving down the road, when you spot a disabled car on the side of the road, and a non-threatening person standing next to it.

    What’s your first thought? “I should help this person.

    ” What’s your next conscious thought? “Boy, I really need to get to the grocery store!”

    What happened here? Your first inclination was to help. But your immediate reaction was, “I don’t know what’s wrong with that car. I don’t know that person. If I stop, how long will I be there? I might have to take that person somewhere! How long will that take? I need to get to the grocery store!“

    Your personal, perceived busyness kept you from going out of your way for another person. Well, we’re all too busy. And my busyness takes precedence over your job search every time.

    The technologies that were supposed to make our lives easier have made it possible to do a great deal more in a lot less time. We used to wonder what we would do with all the extra time technology would give us. Now we know. We use it to do more work. And when we’re not working, we’re going to work, going home from work, or thinking about work.

    In this culture we are so busy that we have learned to limit not only what we do but what we see around us. It has been said that in a day, we are exposed to 3,000 ads. Does this come as a surprise? Of course. We have learned to limit our notice of them. In doing so we also learn to limit access to ourselves. We hunker down and focus on our agendas.

    So, If you try to get me to go out of my way I won’t help you. I don’t have time.

    SIN #2: If you cause people to take a risk, they will not help you.

    We’ve already discussed this one. By asking me to sponsor you for a job, you are asking me to risk my reputation and a personal or reporting relationship in order to help you, who I may or may not know very well.

    This is a really good way to lose friends.

    If you have ever been unemployed for any length of time you may have noticed your friends and acquaintances avoiding you—not letting themselves get caught alone in the same room with you. This behavior is caused not only because they think that as someone who is unemployed you just might have leprosy, but also because they are afraid you’ll ask them to refer you to their boss!

    This dynamic is aggravated by the fact that our work relationships have tended to erode over the years, in direct proportion to the dissolution of the so-called hiring social contract. The baby boomers seem to persist in the belief, against all evidence, that if they are loyal to their employer, their employer will be loyal to them. The Gen X’ers and Millennials know better.

    Why is this a factor? If I don’t owe you, my employer, any loyalty, and you owe me none, what happens to the margin for error? Whereas before I might have gone to my boss and initiate the candidacy of a friend of a friend of mine, today I won’t take that risk.

    This is why, when you’re out there networking, the response you get is, “Oh, you’ll be the first to hear of anything I hear about,” or “I’ll be sure to give your resume to Human Resources.” No risk. And what will that faceless Human Resources department do with it? You already know.

    SIN #3: If you cause people to make a commitment to do something they will not help you.

    You’re meeting with Mr. Big and things are going well, when all of a sudden he slaps himself on the forehead and says, “You need to talk with my friend, Ralph. And I’ll set that up for you.”

    Thanking God for causing Mr. Big to volunteer to do your job search for you, you beat a hasty retreat before he changes his mind.

    But what will happen next? One of two things:

    (1) As you leave, Mr. Big returns to his otherwise busy day and life. Within five minutes it has totally slipped his mind that he said he would contact Ralph. Days pass and you don’t hear from Mr. Big. Finally you call him to follow up, his secretary tells him you’re on the phone, and he suddenly remembers to his horror that he committed to helping you. His response to his secretary? “Take a message.” This is just human nature taking over. Mr. Big realizes that if he can just get a few quiet minutes to himself, he can give Ralph a call, and you’ll never know that he forgot. But when his secretary goes to take a message, does he call Ralph? No, he does not. He returns to what he was doing when he was interrupted. Days pass. You still don’t hear from Mr. Big, so you call again to follow up, his secretary tells him you’re on the phone and once again Mr. Big responds with, “Take a message.” But now he knows that you know that he didn’t do what he said he would do. He can’t speak to you without being embarrassed. So he will never speak to you again. You’ve lost.

    OR:

    (2) Upon further reflection following your departure, Mr. Big realizes that there is no way Ralph will want to speak with you, and that he (Mr. Big) will only embarrass himself by asking Ralph. In the heat of the moment, in his desire to help, he has committed his friend and fellow executive to a meeting that will cost him points in the relationship. Rather than call you back to say he’s changed his mind and that Ralph won’t want to see you, he does nothing. Busy executive that he is, the entire event soon recedes from his consciousness. He is reminded of it only when you call after several days to follow up. He immediately defaults to the avoidance behavior demonstrated above. You’ve lost.

    Networking is about relationships and reducing the risk of the person with whom you are talking, not about getting leads and contacts. That said, leveraging relationships is an effective way to find employment, and on occasion, to create a job. But in order to leverage a relationship, you must first have one. This means you must devote time and energy to developing relationships. The wise do this over multiple meetings well before they need leverage. The rest try to do it in five minutes over a cocktail.

    Perhaps the sales representative who visited me will learn that it is relationships, not contacts that will produce solid referrals for her. This will keep from having to “network” to find another job!

    Bud Whitehouse Career Management of Virginia
    MOVE AHEAD. >
    bwhitehouse@cmvacareers.com

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