I used to be intimidated by dating. I thought that I had to wait until I found that one right person, then go in “for the kill” once I found them. It mostly resulted in lots of frustration because there often is not just one right person, and when I would think that I found them, they were not interested in me. The whole process seemed futile, and I then I would swear to never date again. Then one day a good friend, who dated all the time, said to me, “Todd, I don’t date. I interview.” For him, dates were just opportunities to expand his network, to meet interesting people and to go on a journey with them. Sometimes it would result in a good cup of coffee and no more interest. Sometimes it resulted in a solid friendship that he never would have enjoyed without “the interview.” Sometimes it resulted in a romantic relationship. He didn’t enter the dating adventure with one set expectation, and so he was able to enjoy whatever became of it. The frustration level was low, and the results were plentiful. Based on his advice, I kissed “dating” goodbye. I now interview. As you can tell, it’s resulted in a lot of coffee and friends. 🙂
Searching for a job is not an effort in finding opportunities. It is an effort in building relationships. The first kind of search will result in endless frustration because there are few opportunities right now, and you will have access to very few of those that you want. There is another way that is based in the same kind of perspective as my friend has about dating. View a job search as an adventure of vocational discovery and an exercise in strengthening your network of relationships. Viewed this way, a job search is just one season of a continuous life journey of discovering yourself and building community with those who can help you become all that are you meant to be. As one of my friends in career counseling says, “Never stop looking for a job because you should never stop looking for yourself and others.” It’s a process, not a destination.
As every statistic shows, we receive most jobs because of who we know, not because of impressive resumes or thorough job board searches. I have never — not once — received a job where I did not know someone, or someone that I knew also knew someone. My guess is that you haven’t either. Ok, maybe you didn’t know someone at McDonald’s or Macy’s when you got that high school job, but professional jobs are nearly impossible to acquire without the help of people in your network. It’s who you know. Or as Chris Matthews says in his very valuable book Hardball, “It’s who you get to know.”
Every good politician, CEO or sales person knows this. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know someone today. It matters that you get to know them tomorrow. If your dream is to work at The Coca-Cola Company, and you don’t know someone there already, that’s ok. Begin an effort today to get to know them. Remember: they also want to get to know you. Those who understand the value of networks always want another person in their network. A network is not like a cookie jar with limited space so that we can only have so many cookies in the cookie jar. It’s like a snowflake that continues to grow in beauty and size as new people attach themselves to us, and there really is no limit.
One of the most common comments that I hear from friends about Facebook and LinkedIn is, “I don’t need a lot of friends. I only want those that I know best to be my friends on those sites.” I understand their privacy concerns, and I also understand that they feel that having too many friends is probably inauthentic or unnecessary for a good and fulfilling life. I get it. But I think they are wrong.
Facebook is a different animal from LinkedIn altogether, and they really should not be seen in the same way as equal social media tools. Facebook is primarily a personal network, though it is quickly taking on business uses. LinkedIn is not a personal network but a web of professional connections. While you may wish to limit your friend network on Facebook, any desire to limit your connections on LinkedIn is just unconscionable. You want as many connections on LinkedIn as possible, even those you don’t know. Some will say, “Well, if I am in software marketing, why do I need car sales persons in my LinkedIn connections?” Here’s why: The car sales person has friends in her network who buy software or manage software companies. When you do a job search on LinkedIn, those people will show up as potential 2nd degree connections for you. There simply is no reason imaginable to limit your network on LinkedIn. The more people in your network, the better it works.
In this economy and in the “freelance” job market that is emerging in America, you can’t afford to know only those that are your closest friends and acquaintances. You must constantly build your network. Here are five ways that I do this:
1. Attend networking events, association dinners and charitable fundraisers. Take plenty of cards, have your elevator speech ready, and work the room. Don’t like to go alone? Me either. Take a friend with you who also needs to network, and meet people together. I also reserve at least two meals or happy hours per week for people I want to get to know. Not one — I repeat — not one has ever been a waste of time. I almost always walk away with a new contact, a client opportunity or a deeper friendship.
Two years ago, I committed to build an organization here in LA that is based in DC. I was in DC two summers ago and had coffee with one of its directors. We hit it off immediately, and several months later we shared dinner after an event here in LA. We have shared the death of a parent, occasionally check in on Facebook and send each other contacts. After several months of no contact, I called her last week while I was in DC. She had 30 minutes to spare, so we had coffee together. During our conversation, she remembered that she has a business relationship with a company here in LA that is looking for a federal government affairs representative. She said, “I’m so glad you called me, or I wouldn’t have thought of this. This is perfect for you.” I am now on my 2nd interview with that company.
2. When you get home from the event, or anytime that you receive a business card, write the person an email or handwritten note within 24 hours to let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them and to establish future contact. I then add them to my Outlook contacts with a description of how I met them.
3. If you can obtain birthday information about a person, in person or on Facebook, drop them a note on their birthday. This reminds them of your interest, and most people will be impressed that you remembered their special day. A Facebook note is nice, but an handwritten card is even better.
4. It is better to receive than to give. Ask people to help you. They will be honored that you asked, and nothing builds a stronger relationship like being asked to help another person.
5. It is better to give than to receive. Karma works in building a network. I make an attempt to always introduce a friend to someone else in my network every time that is done for me. When I meet someone that has a common interest with another friend, I send them an email, copying both of them, introduce the two of them to each other, and explain why both of them are valuable to me. I do this at least 5 times per week. If you do it for others, it will be done unto you.
Life and jobs happen when relationships happen. It really is mostly who you know. But that’s not an excuse. That is an opportunity. Seize it.
**If I can be helpful to you in learning networking skills or in building your career, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website at www.toddbouldin.com. I also recommend the book “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi.