Networking 101:  If You Have to Explain Who the Person is Who Referred You—It’s Not a Referral!

Most people understand that, if they seriously want to get a job, they will have to develop and manage a network of people who can help them.

Most people would rather chew glass than do this. Why?

First, in the American culture, we’re all pioneers—complete, independent, self-fulfilling, captains of our souls, masters of our ships. We get it done. We don’t ask for help. Asking for help is for sissies.

Well, by its very nature, networking involves asking for help! But if I have to ask for help, I feel demeaned; “I am a worm and no man!”

Second, a substantial portion of the population is introverted. I am among them. Introverts would rather lick sand than talk to people they don’t know.

Third, most people don’t have a clue as to how to go about networking. Doing something you don’t know how to do is, at best, frustrating, and when it involves other people, frequently embarrassing.

What’s the answer?

You will either get a job or not. If you don’t network there is a really good chance that you won’t. But if you know what you’re doing, and do it well, there’s an excellent chance you’ll not only get a job, you’ll get a good job. I learned, and you can, too. I also made mistakes you can avoid.

In another post I wrote about the importance of face time. It was a lesson I learned the hard way. Today’s subject also fits that category—the college of hard knocks.

When I started my last job search, I called my friend Paul.

“Paul,” I said, “I’ve done enough outplacement to know that it’s what I want to do, but I don’t know anything about the industry, I don’t know who the players are, I don’t even know if I speak the language. I’ve got to get out there and talk to some people, and you have to help me!”

“Right,” he said, “that’s just how I got into the business. Call these four people and tell them I told you to call.”

I called the first name on the list. He was the managing director of the Washington, DC, office of America’s biggest outplacement firm at that time. He came on the phone and I said, “Hello Jim, my name is Bud Whitehouse. I was referred to you by Paul Smith (not his real name). He said you might be helpful to me. I’d like to meet with you and get some insight into the outplacement industry, perhaps an evaluation of my skills and abilities and how they might fit in the industry.”

Jim’s first words were, “Paul who?”

I repeated the last name and stumbled through a description of Paul, who he was, what he was doing, and how I came to know him.

Well, silly me! Jim refused to see me, and not in a friendly way. More like I had leprosy. I’d have been better off just saying, “I’m sorry, I have the wrong number,” and hanging up!

Lesson learned. If you have to explain who the person is who referred you, it isn’t a referral!

Contrast that experience with this one.

When I lived in the Washington, DC, area, I had a friend whose mission in life seemed to be helping people who were looking for a job. In Washington, everyone is always looking for a job, so it was a fertile field. All too often his help consisted of, “You should call Bud Whitehouse. He’s a headhunter. He can help you!”

At the time, I was hunting heads in a relatively small aspect of telecommunications, and one day I got a phone call from a 22-year old kid with a degree in French and no idea of what he wanted to do. “Burnett Thompson said I should see you!”

Now, Burnett was a spiritual father to me. I loved the man. I have to say, though, at that moment  I wasn’t too fond of Burnett. But I knew what would happen if I didn’t agree to meet this kid. I would get another phone call, this time from Burnett, and I would wind up agreeing to meet anyway, so I may as well agree now and get it over with!

I agreed to meet because I owed my relationship with Burnette the courtesy of meeting with the person he referred to me. If there were no relationship, I would have no compelling reason to meet, and, like Jim, could have said, “Burnett who?” 

Networking is not transactional; it’s not about getting other people to do your job search for you. It is all about developing relationships. There are people you will meet with whom there will be no relationship. There are some with whom you will develop temporary relationships, and there are those with whom you will develop life-long relationships.

This brings up my two last points:

  1. Because relationships take time to develop, the worst time to start networking is when you need a job!
  1. Don’t think of networking as bugging people who would rather not talk to you. Think of it as an opportunity to make new friends.