The networking race---drafting and slowing down
December 20, 2008
As the world's unprecedented economic implosion forces more people into involuntary career and soul searching exercises, networking becomes a new and popular strategy. Fear drives us to do things we would never consider. Knowing this human tendency, I developed this site to help people adopt a lifestyle of connecting and helping one another in all times good and bad. Yet, emergency networking becomes the strategy du jour.
I just got back from frozen Chicago where I spent the afternoon with a group of ambitious Pepsi employees who want to advance their careers and their lives through the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Pepsi invests in their employees and gives them many opportunities even through these challenging times. The aftermath of the layoffs of 3000 of their colleagues was already a distant memory and this group was re-focused on how to re-tool and push ahead. Fear was not present. We discussed a wide variety of topics, including how supervisors who are not aligned with your goals can be impediments to advancement. Talked about the importance of "drafting" off of a leader. You remember the way Michael Phelps and Jason Leizak swam just behind the lead swimmer and then slingshotted ahead to win. Or how Jimmie Johnson rides the bumper of the car ahead and passes on the turn. To me the single most important criterion for taking a position is the ability to draft--to be inspired and challenged by a supervisor who is interested in my advancement and development.
Then our conversation turned to networking and we talked about the misplaced desire to do networking FAST. This speed dating mentality is deadly. Networking and mentoring are not effective if they are rushed or considered a quick task. Does not mean we can not be efficient in how we target and focus this process, but super sonic speed in networking is usually iatrogenic (cure is worse than the disease) in building relationships for mutual support and benefit! My favorite coach, John Wooden, preaches, "Be quick but don't hurry." And that is the best advice for basketball, networking and life.
So as you might imagine, I am overwhelmed with networking requests of the supersonic kind. People I have not talked to in decades are looking me up because they need me NOW! Their tone and their process is hurried and panicky. I always try and help, but if we have not worked together on weaving the net, it just doesn't work as well. The slow eating movement has a lot to teach us about the dangers of speed. When we network we have to slow down, be present, and try and enjoy the process. Reconnecting with someone for help has to be a pleasure not a pressure. Be reflective, humble and even apologetic, especially if it has been a long time. Nothing wrong with reconnecting but consider the recipient of the contact and how you would feel. Maybe even a telephone call is better than a quick and dirty e-mail. And the cardinal sin of the speed demon is becoming a hit and run driver. The networker who connects, gets what he wanted, and never is heard from again. Were the referrals and assistance provided helpful? Did you get an interview or a job? Incredible to me when people are so selfish that they don't invest in their networks by closing close the loop by providing feedback. Or use the opportunity to report on the lack of success or the need for additional help. Hit and run networking drivers run over everyone in their path and especially their own reputations.
References as your networking starting point
People who are looking for a job, also need to think about their references. Your best references--those that like you and you like them, people who can endorse you, your track record, your character, your general greatness,--these are major networking hubs. By the way, why are there any other types of references listed? Always curious why some people contact their references at the end of a job search-- makes no sense. Or worse, never contact their references to prep them for a call and hope that something good happens. In these models, your references are the last to know about your new job offer and you explain why you were in the market to begin with and that raises unnecessary questions about what happened. Or your references learn about your career path and changes from the potential employer. Yikes!
Take inventory of your references based upon your current search and evaluate their relevance and support of you.
- Who should you add or subtract?
- What gaps are there? Gaps that an employer will question? What is your story about those gaps?
- Can a colleague, vendor, customer, Board member be added to replace or enhance a list?
- And finally what is the status of your relationship with these people?
- Contact each one to network about your possibilities and affirm their agreement to be your reference
- Describe your goals and seek their assistance
- Keep them informed on your progress
- Prepare them for the call from the potential employer
- Let them know what happened and thank them for their help regardless of the outcome