Posted by: Francesca Di Meglio on April 27, 2009
With the economy in turmoil, many MBA graduates are finding the job search tough going. To give readers some insight into the strategies they’re pursuing and the difficulties they face, BusinessWeek has recruited four out-of-work MBAs to write about their experiences for a new feature called “The Hunt” that will appear periodically on the Getting In blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.
By Bryan Glover
I have come to believe that one of the most important skills a person can have in life is the ability to network. With this ability being so important, I think it best to start by clarifying what I consider to be networking. To me, networking is meeting other people to form mutually beneficial relationships whether they are professional, personal, romantic, or other. Why is it important to clarify the definition of networking? Because to some, the phrase “networking” itself brings fear, loathing, ambivalence, or downright dread, and I want to demonstrate that we all network every day and in almost every circumstance. Just as important as what networking means is clarifying what it does not mean. Networking doesn’t mean asking people to “hook you up,” nor does it mean you have to ignore the fundamentals of relationship building. Networking isn’t limited to professional applications, and it most certainly isn’t about running around a room seeing what everyone can do to help you in any of the settings I mentioned above.
So why do I consider myself to be good at networking? Because I am truly and genuinely interested in the lives of other people. When I meet someone, I pay attention when they are describing who they are, what they do, where they are from. I learn their name, their background, their hopes, etc. I ask questions. I get to know others around me. We all go into social settings with predefined ideas about the other people in the room based on things we have heard, what people are wearing, whether they appear to be well groomed, and whether any given person seems to fit in (at least generally) with the others in the room. I like people so it is easy for me to talk to people, even those who may have been shunned by others. I enter every social interaction with a mindset of not knowing what will come out of it.
I think we have all made some mistakes in networking during our lives. My personal story is one where I had participated in a wedding and got so drunk afterward, I didn’t know how I got home. I woke up the next morning with a raging (and well-deserved) hangover and the company of a very cute girl laying on a separate couch. I asked her if she knew how we got home and she happily explained how, after being asked to leave the bar, she decided to give me a ride home. She was very kind to me and it was an uneventful ride home. I had the nerve to ask for her phone number because I wanted to be sure to call her and thank her again in a few days. I did call and it turns out the girl had been in the wedding party, thought I was cute, and was interested in me until the end of the night when I drunkenly tried to kiss her. Nothing else happened except me trying to kiss her after ignoring 100 signs that she wasn’t receptive. Turns out this girl was the daughter of my new boss and my offending her went a long way toward making sure I would never be promoted at that company again.
Why do I bring up this story? Because, it important to understand you are always networking and should always be on your best behavior. Just today I was able to help out two friends with interviews for jobs they might be crazy about because they “networked” effectively. They worked hard, they were always nice to me, they got to know me personally and that allowed me to trust them enough to be willing to put my name on the line on their behalf. I have also had friends whose idea of networking involved sending me their resume and asking me to hook them up. Not that these folks aren’t smart, but they haven’t done enough to build my trust to a level where I feel comfortable passing their info to a friend. Networking professionally is the same as networking personally; both parties must stand to gain or the chance of it not working well skyrockets.
I have had associates find out I got a job and then blindly send me their resume or call/text/e-mail and say “Cool, saw you got hired, can I send you my resume?” I feel like I am being hit over the head with questions like that. How do I reply to those who I am not comfortable shilling for? Do I come right out and tell them I don’t think it’s a good idea because they talked poorly about me for the entire length of our working together? Do I simply say “I’ll see what I can do,” when I have no intention of following up? I see it as fairly unethical to be that heavy handed about it in the first place. If a friend gets a job, he should get a period of only celebration before being asked to “hook you up.”
Here are some tips on networking:
1) Always treat people with kindness and respect
2) Get to know the other person and look for chances to ask “what can I do for them?” before wondering what they can do for you.
3) Anytime you are out, you are networking. You can be networking at the gym, the mall, a concert, a bar. Anywhere you meet people, you are networking.
4) You never know what will come out of a relationship when it starts. Rather than focus on the end result, simply focus on developing a good, healthy, mutually beneficial relationship and things will fall in line.
5) Find something outside of work you have in common and focus on that. That builds trust and relationships, while also allowing a potential employer or date to relate to you as a human, all good things.
Some things NOT to do:
1) Never ask to give someone your resume. This is especially true if this is your first time meeting someone. If someone wants your resume, he or she will ask for it. The way to get them to ask is by showing them you are a cool person who they would like to work with and who would make them look good. Until you cross those two lines, your networking won’t accomplish anything except getting that person to talk about how inept of a networker you are. Ask if they would like to go to lunch so they can talk more about the company and then spend that time getting to know that person. Don’t worry as much about the business. Let that person get back and sing your praises about how great lunch was and how they think you’d be great on the team. Things will then take care of themselves.
2) Nobody owes you anything. Not even a conversation. Recognize when it isn’t happening and live to play another day. Take “no” or “No thanks” or “I don’t think we have any openings that match your profile” the same as you would take them in a social setting. Not the end of the world, just minor setbacks.
3) Don’t psyche yourself out against networking. We all have friends. We met them through networking socially. Networking professionally uses the exact same set of skills, just run through a slightly different filter.
4) Don’t bombard people who do get new jobs with “hook me up man”. If this person has an existing relationship with you, then there is a good chance he knows your strengths, weaknesses, personality, etc. and can make a business decision about whether your candidacy would jeopardize his new job. So don’t. Be happy for them…and that’s all. If they post that their company is hiring for a job you might be a fit for, then e-mail and ask the hiring protocol.
Violating any of these runs the risk that you will actually put yourself further behind in your search. Be the candidate you’d want to deal with in all aspects and make it safe for someone to recommend you. I have two friends that I have happily referred this week because I can testify to the quality of their work and personalities. I know people in charge of a number of open jobs, and I constantly scan my network to try and match the opening to the person. Sometimes I think “Wow, I’d like to hook that person up because he is pretty cool, but I heard from two different colleagues of his that he is lazy and hard to work with.” Remember the axiom about the guy from the mailroom going all the way to the boardroom. Well, the people who networked effectively on the way up should feel safe. Those who didn’t do their best every day probably won’t be around long.