The Problem With Networking, Part 2

If you haven’t yet, go back and read The problem with networking, Part 1.

There is a lot of truth to the statement: “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” While many employment consultants will tell you to get right out there, doing so before you are prepared is not far different from going to a job interview wearing pajamas. They will tell you to go to networking events now and often, to make contacts and give out business cards. They will tell you to use these contacts to expand your network.

In a down industry, networking events tend to be empathy events. Rather than entering a room full of potential employers or even leads, the networker is entering a room full of peers sharing a common problem. There is plenty of opportunity to commiserate but little opportunity to get closer to employment. If that is what you want or need to help your emotional state, fine. Just don’t waste the chance to make a good first impression on any real opportunities.

General industry events, such as tradeshows and conferences aren’t much better. The guys with resumes end up coming off like your annoying cousin-in-law, the insurance salesman. Conferences are a little better, but tend to cost a lot of money and your opportunities are limited to the people you sit with at lunch. Beyond that and you have the bubonic plague again.

As far as the informational interviews go, the picture looks even worse. Employment councilors will strongly recommend the informational interview as a tactic. The idea is to get a name of an employed manager and get a half hour of their time. Ideally, you would get their name from someone that they know. You call them up and say, “Julie suggested I give you a call. Can I have a few moments of your time for an informational interview?” Since Julie is a known name and you are just asking for an informational interview, the manager will gladly find the time to talk with you. Then you come out of that interview with two or three more names and repeat the cycle with them.

I’m sorry, but as a professional, two of the things I value most are my time and my reputation. My friends are the same way. This means a couple of things. I’m not likely to pass a name off to someone I’ve just met. I don’t have the time for dozens of non-relevant phone calls from people I don’t know and neither do my friends and colleagues.

Typically, I don’t get out of the office with less than a nine-hour day. Half the time I eat lunch at my desk. Then there are lunches with my friends and business associates, just to keep up my active network – not to mention, vendor meetings, customer meetings, and internal meetings. If I’m not looking to hire someone, there needs to be a very compelling reason for me to give away a half-hour of my time.

If Bob introduces himself and says Cathy suggested he talk to me, one of my first questions will be: “How do you know Cathy?” At this point, Bob either lies to me or I think “thanks, Cathy for passing this pest off on me.” Neither angle is more likely to get me to hand off other names. Although, I might end up shooting a few back at Cathy as a somewhat spiteful “thanks.”

I once calculated that all told, a phone call takes about ten minutes out of my day exclusive of any talking and that it would take me approximately 1/3 of my working day to return all of the unsolicited phone calls I receive in an average day. After that I stopped the courtesy of returning all phone calls. I couldn’t afford it and neither could my employer. It’s not that I’m cold, just that I’m busy. I have a lot of work to do. I have a family that needs more time from me than it gets and I don’t have the luxury of risking my productivity on such charitable activities.

“So what?” the employment consultants say. “You have to be a pest. You have to make it more of a pain to not talk to you.” Excuse me? I’ve already stated that I’m unlikely to risk my reputation by referring an unknown. How likely do you think I am to refer an unknown pest to a friend or colleague of mine? Do you want your brand to be that of an annoying pest?

My rule of thumb is that you can expand your network out by one layer. Personal friends and colleagues can give you references and I will do the same for them. Beyond that, no. Beyond that, it takes far more time, defined as months and years, than the typical unemployed person has the luxury of putting in. So, when and how can you network? Public networking events are out. General business events are out. What’s left?

Non-business social events offer some promise. A party at a friend’s house affords decent opportunity, provided there are other professional people among the invitees. At a party, the environment is more relaxed. You have implied credibility just by being there and plenty of time to establish a personal relationship. That personal relationship can then, over time, be nurtured into an extension of your network. Again, though, it is a personal relationship first. If you bring out the old resume too soon, you become the insurance salesman. If you display your neediness too soon, you become a user and will start to see your self with fewer and fewer party invitations.

Once you have adequately established a quality brand, the particular place, time and setting no longer matters. Then you can go to those networking events and take those informational interviews. Then you can cold call. Before you have a good brand, it doesn’t matter much either because your results will be hit or miss no matter what you attempt.

On to The Problem With Networking, Part 3.