If you read “how to land your dream job” articles, you’ll always hear people touting the benefits of networking. I think too many people see the word “network” and think “I have to stay in touch with every single person I have ever known for the rest of my career.” You can’t do this, you won’t do this and you shouldn’t do this. Networking is an art, not a science. There are no hard and fast rules to networking, because at its core networking is about making and keeping friends. They are work-friends, definitely; these are not the people you’ll be sharing popcorn with on the couch watching Survivor. But they are people who need to believe you are more than just a blood-sucking leech trying to get something from them. If you are a job jumper, you DO need something from them – but you can’t use them once and then discard them. You have to keep that network healthy if you’re going to stay on the jump.
First of all, let’s separate our “network friends” from people who are “just” friends. I have a friend (I’ll call him Ralph) that I met years ago through work. Ralph and I had a good, friendly, joking relationship for a couple of years before we each headed our separate ways. Although we both went into consulting, he moved to another state and started working for a firm doing a very different type of consulting than I do. Although we have no professional overlap since we work in completely separate markets and industries, you might think there is some value in maintaining Ralph as part of my “network” for the precise reason that we ARE so different – you might say he could be my toehold in that market/industry. I say no. I never want to live where he lives, having been there, and he has no interest in coming back to the NYC region (where we worked together). I worked in his industry before and hated it with a passion – I would never go back. Of course our paths might cross again professionally, but the chances are good they won’t. I count him as a friend, but not part of my professional network.
Ralph and I stay friendly by trading an email or two each year, but nothing more. With another former colleague (I’ll call him Karl), I exchange emails once every couple of weeks and call on the phone every month or two. Both of us have helped each other with job searches, ideas, and expanding our networks. He has been a reference for me, and I for him. He is both my friend and a valuable part of my network.
If I tried to keep my interactions spread out widely enough to catch all of my Ralphs, I’d lose some valuable time that I spend connecting with my Karls.
Building a professional network is not simply shooting someone an email invitation to join your LinkedIn connections because you are connected at some remote Nth degree. Being part of a network means the members are interdependent. Everyone has something they can bring to the table. If I keep a person who reported to me years ago in my network, it’s because I might be able to help them by giving them recommendations. If I keep a former manager in my network, it’s so I can recommend current colleagues who might be job-jumping to connect with him. All of these people should be able to do the same for me, too. If someone can’t provide a useful function in the network, they don’t need to be there.
Having a network of 1,000 people through Facebook or LinkedIn or jobster may be an impressive number, but it’s essentially useless. Unless you are more organized than most people, though, you will have a hard time maintaining good, collegial relationships with 1,000 people. You may be able to do it. I suggest you pick one online networking site and stick with it. Don’t try to connect with people on 50 different sites.
A better way to spend your time may be to focus on a smaller network but with sincere, useful interactions on a frequent basis. When you meet someone and want to draw them in to your network, help them – without even the least hint of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Put yourself out there to help them. Make them want to join your network instead of trying to force yourself into their network. Help them connect with someone who might make a good employee, or a contractor who could help them get over a tricky problem, or even give them a link to a useful website they might not have heard of before. You will be amazed at how much people appreciate the effort even if they don’t take advantage of the offer.
There is an important principle at work here. I am sure you might look back at my friends Ralph and Karl and say that Ralph might someday be in a position to help someone I know get a job in his market. That may be so. But this is a case where the Pareto Principle has to be applied: I need to spend 80% of my effort on the 20% of my network that has the best chance of being useful TO ME and only spend 20% on the other 80% of my network, including my “work friends.” Karl is worth 80% of my effort, since he’s in the 20% of my network that can (and has, and does, and will in the future) help me with job-jumping. Ralph just isn’t. He’s still my friend, and I’ll stay in touch – but there’s no need to include him in my “core” networking group. If I have to make a choice between communicating with Karl or Ralph, I’ll pick Karl. Priorities have to be set.
Make an effort to identify the people in your network who you can help and who can help you. Eliminate the rest from your active professional network. I realize that sounds mercenary, but we’re talking about your career, which probably has at least some mercenary aspect to it. Unless you are doing it solely for “love of the game,” of course, but most of us work at our careers at least partially for the money. Make a point to reach out to your network. Find ways to help them. Don’t discard people who can’t help you today – or who you can’t help – but don’t spend time connecting with your Ralphs at the expense of your Karls.
The single best networking book I’ve ever read is Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time. Keith Ferrazzi has an easy, conversational writing style, some unconventional ideas about how to succeed in networking, and most importantly he’s done it all. I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about the “art of networking.”
One of my favorite authors is Penelope Trunk. Her book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, is an invaluable resource for understanding what it takes to succeed in today’s workplace. She also has a well-written blog that always has an unusual, thought-provoking take on career (and life) management.
The sites I mentioned are great for networking, although some are better than others. LinkedIn and Facebook get a nod simply because of their reach, but jobster and jibberjobber have some interesting features.
Check out the rest of the job jumper tips:
- job jumper tip #1: create a WIDD file
- job jumper tip #3: it’s not all about the money
- job jumper tip #4: leave on your terms
- job jumper tip #5: take a break
(photo credit: stanrandom)