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Networking 102: The 3 Deadly Sins, Part 2

This is the second of three related posts about networking. As I said in the first post, I’ve talked about networking in other posts, but it is so fundamental to the job search that it bears looking at from a number of angles.

These three posts relate to three serious mistakes people make when networking, mostly in trying to get other people to do their search for them. This does not work.

RULE #2: If you cause people to take a risk, they will not help you.

You’ve been there before. A job hunter buttonholes you at a gathering and gives you a familiar pitch. “I was referred to you by Ralph. Who do you know with a job? I need to get a job. Who do you know who’s hiring? Is your company? I’m looking for some leads and contacts.” You can feel that knot in the pit of your stomach growing as you remember desperately trying to find a means of escape from that most awkward of positions in which your otherwise good friend Ralph has put you. Disavowing any knowledge of Ralph becomes an increasingly attractive possibility!

There are several things wrong with what this job hunter has said. We’ll take them in order.

First, he has grabbed you at a public gathering. Never try to do business at a public gathering. The goal here would be to get permission to meet later, not to get “leads and contacts.”

Second, he has asked who you know with a job. Do you know this person? No. So how likely are you to take the risk of ruining your reputation and perhaps a friendship by referring this character to someone you know on the chance that he won’t embarrass you with a friend, co-worker, or boss, even if you know there’s a job available? Not.

Third, when he approached you saying he’s looking for leads and contacts, it is no doubt instantly clear to you that he wants to use you to get somewhere. Do you enjoy being used? I think not.

Networking is all about building relationships. This is not what is meant by building relationships!

If you have ever been unemployed for any length of time you will have noticed your friends and acquaintances avoiding you in gatherings, and not letting themselves get caught alone in a room with you. This behavior is caused not only by the fact that they are afraid you will pass your bad luck on to them, but also because they are afraid you will ask them to risk their reputation for you.

This dynamic is aggravated by the fact that our work relationships have tended to erode somewhat over the years, in direct proportion to the dissolution of the so-called hiring social contract. Baby boomers seem to persist in the belief, against all evidence, that if they are loyal to their employer, their employer will be loyal to them. The GenXers and Millennials know better.

Why is this a factor? If I don’t owe you, my employer, any loyalty, and you owe me none, what becomes of our mutual trust level? What happens to the margin for error? Whereas before I might have gone to my boss and initiate the candidacy of a friend, today I won’t take that risk.

This is why, when you give someone your resume, their immediate response is, “I’ll be sure to give this to Human Resources.” No risk. No reward for you either! What will that faceless HR department do with your resume? You already know.