job jumper tip #2: be a discriminating networker

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.

References:

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:

(photo credit: stanrandom)

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  • http://fathersez.wordpress.com fathersez

    The best networker I know is a friend who has a phone list / address book of about 300 people and he keeps in touch regularly…maybe one call at least every three months.

    He is sincere and his USP is his great memory. he remembers things like how many children, their names and stuff like that.

    I don’t think he started this because of job concerns and anything like that, but when he needs something done, he has tremendous resources at his disposal.

  • http://plonkee.com plonkee

    My problem with this is that it feels to forced. I guess I’m not thinking about it right and I don’t actively network. I’m probably naturally the reverse of a connector. :(

  • http://paradigmshifted.org/ deepali

    Some people can manage the 1000-person network; I think Gladwell calls them “Connectors”. But most of us are not connectors. Great post!

  • Asithi

    What about the person from a last job that you got along with, who you thinks is a good worker, but was a little competitive with you? Would you try to maintain contact with that person?

    I am in that dilemma. I have an old co-worker that is about the same age group and same field as me. It can potentially lead to some job leads in the future because I think she is really bright and will be going places. But my problem is that she is one of those passive aggressive woman that bug me a bit when I used to work with her. I have not left my old job long enough for it to be weird to contact her, but I am still iffy about it. What do you think?

  • http://www.bripblap.com Steve (Brip Blap)

    @Asithi: Let me put it in the context of my post – do you have something to offer this woman? Is there some reason she might be glad to hear from you? If there is, don’t be hesitant to reach out.

    On the other hand, if you have nothing to offer her – no friendship, no resources, etc. – then you have to ask yourself whether there’s much point in staying in touch with someone you disliked enough not to come up with a way to help her.

    I know that’s a little bit philosophical, but it’s the best way to look at it – because if all you’re doing is trying to force a connection with someone you didn’t really like much anyway, how long will you be able to keep that connection up?

    @fathersez, plonkee, deepali: I definitely WAS a connector but I’ve tried to tone it back. For a while I was Mr. Touchbase with the Heyhowareya emails – but then my approach shifted to the method I describe above. I cut my address book down and tried to become a Normal Human rather that a Connector. It just felt more reasonable. Some people can do it, though.

  • Asithi

    At this stage, I certainly have more to offer than she does to me. I know she will be taking her state registration exam within the next year, there is much I can do to help her prepare for it without much effort in my part like recommending study guides, review courses, etc.

    This is going to sound weird, but I think 20 years from now, I would like to be employed by the federal government once more for the health benefits upon retirement. She will be in a position by then to help me out if that is the case (if she haven’t jumped ship like I did between now and then). I just need the to be covered by their health insurance 5 years prior to retirement to be able to carry the benefit through retirement (long term planning huh?).

    I think I will wait and see on this one. This year, I plan to attend the department Christmas party (2008). If I still feel forced when I am trying to be nice to her, then I will just not act upon keeping her as a contact.

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  • http://www.dividendgrowthinvestor.com/ Dividend Growth Investor

    Brip Blap,

    I do know that networking is a powerful tool for landing a job. Unfortunately though, I am pretty bad at networking.
    I have been able to help “friends” in finding a job, but after a while, when I really needed help in myself getting a job these same friends would not scratch my back. What should I do :-)