The Problem With Networking, Part 1

Unemployed? Looking for a job? Network. Get out to all those networking events. Call people and ask for informational interviews. Whenever you speak with anyone, get referrals from them. Right? Well, maybe. Sort of.

A number of years ago, I went through a period of fairly long-term unemployment, and I think I learned quite a bit about that world. Not much was really new to me, but the perspective certainly was.

There are two types of job seekers: those that can network unassisted and those that can’t. I estimate that roughly five to ten percent of the population take to social networking naturally. They are the 4.0 students that were also head cheerleader or captain of the basketball team as well as student body president. They went on to be fighter pilots, doctors and seven figure-salary sales jocks. There are another 1.5% that didn’t show in the same way back in school but could just as easily have been walking on the moon had they chosen to do so. If you are one of this small set, you probably aren’t reading this. In fact, it is so unlikely for you to be reading this that I essentially have complete license to insult you, you overachieving smug little bastards.

If, on the other hand, you are the sort that feels the need to read about networking, struggles with it, has to ask “how” then read on. This is for you and it is important. Most of what you have been told to this point is wrong. Dead wrong. If not wrong, then at least just seriously lacking. Writing about networking tends to be produced by those that are good at it and that makes it something different entirely than what us mere mortals need to practice.

First, though, it is important to know that networking success, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with your quality as a person or as an employee. Everyone knows the joke in business that consultants only tell you the obvious or send you in the wrong direction. That’s because the people that get hired as consultants are those that are good at networking, or selling, first. Their promulgated specialty generally comes in a distant second.

It’s great to hire a good salesman if you are looking for a sales consultant. However, if you are looking for a management or finance consultant, good selling is off the mark. You may find a consultant that is both very good at the task and great at selling, but more often than not, you don’t. Fittingly, what you will learn here applies both to those that seek full-time employment as well as hopeful consultants.

The employment consultants will tell you that finding a job is all about selling. “You have to sell yourself.” “Networking is selling.” They will tell you that you need to become a good sales person and sell yourself like you are your favorite product. They emphasize the need to sell and be good at selling. This is a little bit true but is very much short of the whole story.

The problem with sales is that it is a truth-independent activity. A good sales person does not need the truth. Most may want the truth backing them up, but they don’t need it. Again, that is why the big-ego, little-talent, consultant features so prominently infamous in business lore. A poor sales person needs the truth, and a good truth at that.

In fact, selling is a very small part of the equation when the desired result is long-term or high-paid work. Almost anyone can sell quickly and easily if provided with the proper foundation. Selling, on the other hand, without that foundation is like a game of pin the tail on the donkey. It is blind-folded target shooting. Those few that have the built-in radar will do it but for the rest of us, it’s little more than luck. In a booming industry, people get hired because there are enough targets to make the odds high or because the companies are doing all the work for you. In a down industry, it’s a different story entirely.

The missing link is marketing: The brand of you. Before attending any networking events, before seeking informational interviews, before doing anything other than following the rare serendipitous lead, you must build your brand as a foundation. In a sense, calling a brand a “foundation” is a bit misleading though. The brand is how you communicate the value that is you. The brand is the packaging up of you into a marketable and saleable product.

Read The Problem With Networking, Part 2